Luis Martinez / ABC News – 2010-07-17 20:04:25
(July 15, 2010) — June was the worst month ever for Army suicides, according to Army figures released today that include suicides among active duty soldiers as well as inactive Guardsmen and Reservists.
There were 21 active duty Army suicides in the month of June and 11 on the inactive Guard and Reserve side, totaling 32 for the month. The 21 active duty suicides ties the monthly record set in January of 2009.
Earlier this month, Army officials had been encouraged by a 30 percent reduction in the number of suicides (through June 10) over last yearâ€™s record high of 162. However, the final monthly numbers released today indicate the 80 active duty suicides so far this year are on pace with last yearâ€™s numbers. There were 88 suicides through the first six months of last year.
Through the first half of this year, the number of inactive Guard and Reserve suicides stands at 65, which is 24 more than last year’s total for the whole year.
Despite this year’s trends, Army leaders say the programs they have instituted in recent years to prevent suicides in their ranks are having a positive impact.
Col. Chris Philbrick, Director of the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, said at a news briefing today, “the help is there in ways that have never before been seen in relationship to how the military is dealing with the situation.” He acknowledged the difficulty in dealing with the issue, but said it extends beyond the Army to American society as a whole. â€œ This is not just a military issue, it is one that the entire nation is facing. The rise in the rate of suicides is not exclusive to the Army. So we believe that help is there and the opportunity to raise their hands and say, “I need help” and to get them to that help is improving each and every day.
At a Senate hearing last month, Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli said a look at the previous four months data showed that soldiers with one or no deployments represented 79 percent of all suicides and “first termers represent 60 percent of all suicides.”
The Army keeps track of inactive Guard and Reserve soldier suicides who have not been mobilized for active duty and spend most of their time in the civilian world. Army officials admit it’s a challenge to try and help these citizen soldiers, but that regardless of their status it is their duty to help a fellow soldier. Says Col. Philbrick, “Once they raise their right hand and swear that oath that all of us do they become the responsibility of the US Army.” â€¨
Itâ€™s difficult to assess what pressures are leading to the increase in suicides among Guard and Reservists who have not been mobilized because it is not as simple as saying previous combat experience has increased their mental stress when they return to their civilian lives. For example, in April, of the 7 confirmed suicides on the reserve side, 5 of them had never deployed overseas.
For the month of June, four of the 11 who committed suicide had never deployed and five had at least one deployment.
Col. Gregg Bliss, from the Army National Guard said today “We notice that a good portion of our soldiers who commit suicide have yet to deploy. Therefore they lack some of the status necessary that afford them the substance abuse, the behavioral treatment, if we identify them. We think that is a facet we consider indicative of soldiers in need and our ability to provide the clinical help that may be necessary to preempt some of the choices they may be making.”
The Army released a new slickly produced counseling video today that will be shown to Army soldiers as part of the ongoing efforts to raise awareness about suicide in the ranks. Including testimonials from actual soldiers who attempted suicide, Army officials say the new video will be a helpful tool to raise awareness. It replaces a video rushed into production last year for an Army-wide stand-down to raise suicide awareness.
Col. Philbrick said it was his experience that soldiers who saw last year’s video failed to make a connection with the message it was conveying and in some cases laughed at by soldiers as they viewed it. Speaking bluntly he said the previous version “sucked.” He said the Army has already received positive feedback to the new video, which will become a regular part of training.
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