By Elizabeth M. Lorge, Army News Service
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Army is taking steps to meet the
rising suicide rates among Soldiers head-on, the service's top
mental-health expert told reporters at the Pentagon.
The Army is responding to rising suicide rates with more training programs.
(Graphic by U.S. Army
With 102 confirmed suicides among active-duty and activated
reserve-component Soldiers, 2006 had the highest number of cases since
1990. To date, 89 suicide deaths were confirmed in 2007 and 32 cases
are still pending.
Suicide attempts also have climbed exponentially since the Army
began tracking them in 2002, rising from 350 to approximately 2,100
last year, although some non-suicidal self-injuries and a new
electronic medical records system may account for part of the
increase, said Col. Elspeth C. Richie, psychiatry consultant to the
Army's surgeon general.
"The loss of any Soldier is a tragedy and while we're
talking about suicides in this case, Army leadership takes the loss of
any Soldier seriously," said retired Col. Dennis W. Dingle, head
of the Army well-being branch at the Office of Deputy Chief of Staff
for G-1 (Personnel). "The Army is committed to applying the
resources and developing the policies and adapting our programs and
policies to support Soldiers, civilians and their families.
"We have targeted our efforts for suicide-prevention
awareness, specifically to Soldiers and leaders as part of our
professional military education system. It's become institutionalized
during the deployment process. But it goes beyond that. It's an
integrated effort across the entire Army."
The majority of 2006 suicides took place among Soldiers in the
United States. Seventy-two had either never deployed or been back from
theater for over a year, eight had been back from deployment for less
than a year, 27 occurred in Iraq and three in Afghanistan.
The vast majority, Richie said, occur among young, enlisted
males aged 18-24, but there has been a rising number among older
Soldiers, and in 2006 the Army saw the highest number ever among
females: 11. Most, 71 percent, involved firearms.
According to Richie, the Army is closely watching for any
correlation between the length and number of deployments and the
number of suicides, but the most common cause of suicide is strained
is available at
The Fort McCoy Religious
Support Office (RSO) offers Strong Bonds and Suicide Prevention
classes to Fort McCoy Soldiers and mobilized Soldiers and their
The Survival Skills for Healthy Families (Strong Bonds)
classes will be offered from 6-8 p.m. Tuesdays Feb. 19-March 25
in Tomah and from 6-8 p.m. Thursdays from Feb. 21-March 27 in
Upon request, suicide prevention classes are offered to
military units, whenever possible, at Fort McCoy.
Individual counseling also is available.
For more information, call the RSO at (608) 388-3528 or
visit building 2675.
Military personnel with questions about behavioral health
issues at Fort McCoy can be referred to Sgt. 1st Class David
Patterson at (608) 388-4769.
Military personnel who return to their home stations and
communities who have questions
about behavioral health are encouraged to visit the Military One
Source Web site at http://www.militaryonesource.com
call (800) 342-9647 (24-7) or visit or contact their local VA
Medical Center system.
While repeated deployments and post traumatic stress disorder
certainly add stress to relationships, she said, it's unusual for them
to be the direct cause of a suicide.
Lt. Col. Ran Dolinger, a chaplain at G-1, said that while he
was deployed one of his Soldiers attended suicide-prevention training
and seemed fine, but within an hour had received a call from his wife
and killed himself. He stressed the importance of programs like Strong
Bonds in building and maintaining healthy, strong marriages.
As part of the Army Family Covenant, the Army is spending $1.4
billion this year on quality-of-life programs, including health- care,
for Soldiers and families.
These programs are crucial, said Dolinger and Dingle, because
as the Army makes life better for Soldiers, they will be far less
likely to kill themselves.
Richie visited Iraq in October, where she led a team assessing
the mental healthcare available to Soldiers, and found that access to
mental-healthcare providers and chaplains was good.
The Army has more than 200 behavioral-health professionals in
Iraq and has just added more than 100 in the United States.
After conducting interviews and focus groups with experts and
Soldiers of all ranks, the team developed 55 recommendations to
improve suicide-prevention training and care.
The team found that previous training attempts, which focused
on stateside, garrison environments, were not effective in-theater.
Soldiers want to know how
to recognize problems and what to do to help
Senior leaders generally are supportive and encouraging when
Soldiers need help, the team found, but Soldiers are themselves
reluctant to face condemnation from their peers.
This stigma, Richie said, is both the most difficult and the
most important obstacle to overcome when it comes to getting Soldiers
The Army hopes the battle buddy system will help. Based on a
decades-old tactic and the Warrior Ethos' statement "I will never
leave a fallen comrade," it shows Soldiers that someone will
always look out for them and that it's okay to ask for help.
All Soldiers receive an ACE of hearts playing card to carry
A reminder to Soldiers to care enough and have the courage to
find out what's going on, and to never leave Soldiers who might harm
themselves alone, even to get help, ACE stands for: Ask your buddy,
Care for your buddy, Escort your buddy.
Battlemind training, which is required both before and after
deployment, also reminds Soldiers who may be having a hard time that
they are not alone. It tells leaders, Soldiers, family members and
even Army civilians how to recognize Soldiers in distress and how to
get them help.
"We've got the multiple portals to care through chaplains,
through primary care, through behavioral health, through leadership.
We also need to make sure that family members know who to call if
they're worried about their Soldier. We need to involve the whole
family and the whole community in this effort," said Richie.
For more information, Soldiers also are encouraged to visit the
Web site http://www.behavioralhealth.army.mil