Army Seeks to Improve Troop Resilience as Suicides Increase

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By Sandra Basu

WASHINGTON – Against the backdrop of an uptick in suicides in its ranks, the Army announced that it is developing a campaign to increase mental health resilience among troops.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh said he has asked officials to develop a “Ready and Resilient” Campaign plan that will integrate and synchronize the multiple efforts and programs designed to improve the readiness and resilience of troops and their families.

McHugh’s announcement came shortly after the Army released suicide statistics that continue to show the number of suicides soaring. The Army announced that, for 2012, there had been 182 potential active-duty suicides and 143 potential not-on-active-duty suicides. This was an increase over 2011, when there were 165 confirmed active-duty suicides and 118 suicides of troops not on active duty.

McHugh said the military is searching for answers to why suicides are occurring among troops.

In the meantime, he said, it is “critical” to have the tools in place to try to prevent them.

Speaking of the Ready and Resilient Campaign, McHugh said, “We really do believe this is an important step in providing a better, holistic and collaborative and coherent enterprise.”

While a number of military programs are designed to promote psychological health in troops, DoD officials have been examining how to streamline and ensure that the correct programs are offered.

A 2011 study conducted by the Rand Corp., commissioned by DCoE to review resiliency programs militarywide, pointed out that troops and their families needed help to wade through the vast number of programs.

“With such a wide variety and rapid increase in programs that are available, it is difficult for individuals to decipher the trade-offs of using different services or programs,” the report stated.

As for the Army, McHugh explained that commanders are working hard to help troops, though confusion remains about which programs may best help a given individual.

“Often, commanders and those encharged with delivering care are unaware of certain benefits and programs and opportunities that are available,” he said. “Other times, they are aware of them but are not sure exactly how they might apply to certain soldiers. Interventions are not coming as early as we would like to see them. … That is based in part on the fact that too often our programs are stovepiped [i.e., limited in their scope].”

McHugh said that, after they’ve constructed “program after program,” commanders do not have a “cross-programmatic perspective” to help them advise troops.

“If we do our job and eliminate duplication and overlap, if we do our job in making sure we are weeding out the unnecessary initiatives and make the tools available to the commanders, we will, if not totally eliminate, fix that kind of disconnect,” he said.

McHugh, who made his comments at Joint Base Lewis McChord, near Tacoma, WA, also said he is reviewing recommendations from a behavioral health launched after troops and members of Congress complained last year that PTSD diagnoses at Madigan Army Medical Center there were downgraded by a forensic psychiatric team.

In response to McHugh’s announcement, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) said that, while she was pleased that the Army has announced the study is complete, “it’s far more important that they take quick action to remedy the problem.”

“In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with Secretary McHugh to get the specific recommendations that came out of the study,” she said.

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