Late Breaking News
Suicides Are the Toughest Problem Faced by Army Vice Chief of Staff
- Categorized in: January 2010
WASHINGTON, DC—The Army is on track for a higher number of suicides in 2009 than the previous year, according to Army officials in a recent statement. As of Nov 16th, the Army reported 140 active-duty suicides, which is equivalent to the total number in 2008. In addition, there were 71 suicides by soldiers not on active duty, which is 14 more than the Army’s total in 2008. “We are almost certainly going to end the year higher than last year,” Army Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen Peter Chiarelli told reporters at the Pentagon.
Gen Chiarelli called each of these losses “devastating,” and said that the suicide problem was the toughest problem he had faced in his 37 years of service. However, he also said that he believed that progress was being made. While 40 of the suicides in 2009 occurred in January and February alone, suicides from March on have trended down, with the exception of a couple of months, he said. “We attribute this reduction in the number of suicides to the many actions we have taken since February to inform and educate leaders and soldiers on this important issue,” he said. “If you were to ask me the single reason why I think we’re starting to make progress, it’s leader involvement across the entire force.”
The “biggest step” that he said the Army has taken to help soldiers in terms of prevention is through the Army’s new Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. The program aims to increase the psychological strength of servicemembers. “It was developed in recognition that we have spent a lot of time, historically, on the training, physical fitness, and technical excellence in the Army, but not psychological fitness. In truth, all three are really essential in this era of persistent conflict,” said Army Brig Gen Rhonda Cornum.
The Army is also in the process of developing resilience training at every leadership development school, from basic officer leadership and basic training, up through the sergeant major academy and the war college.
Chiarelli said that it has been difficult to take on the suicide problem, and officials are trying to understand why suicide rates are up this year at Fort Campbell, Fort Stewart, and Schofield Barracks, while suicides were down at Fort Bragg, Fort Drum, and Fort Hood. For example, at Fort Campbell, there were 18 suicides, while at Fort Bragg, which has almost double the population, there were six suicides this past year. In addition, over 40% of the suicides in 2009 were committed by individuals who had been seen by a behavioral health care specialist.
Chiarelli said that he thinks there is a link between substance abuse and some of the mental health issues that are arising among servicemembers, but said that the Army is having trouble hiring a sufficient number of substance abuse counselors. The Army needs 270 to 300 more of these counselors. “I’m having one heck of a time getting the numbers I need at the different posts, camps, and stations,” he added.
More substance abuse counselors are needed to expand a program that is being piloted in three different locations that allows a servicemember to self refer for a substance abuse problem, without it being reported to their chain of command. Currently, when an individual self refers for substance abuse care, it is reported to their chain of command. Through the pilot, substance-abuse counseling services are open late at night and on weekends, so people can make those appointments without the their chain of command knowing.
The Army is making other efforts to address mental health issues, he said. A pilot on TBI and PTSD education and protocols is scheduled to begin at Fort Campbell. In addition, in October, the Army started using a new screening questionnaire as part of the enlistment process to try to determine pre-existing or current mental health issues.