Small Maryland Military Post Stressed to Breaking Point, Suicide Risk High

Experts Concerned About High Stress at Fort Meade

by Lisa Rhodes
The (Laurel, Md.) Soundoff!, June 7, 2012

During the past year, Fort Meade’s medical and substance abuse experts have seen an increase in stress among Soldiers and Department of the Army civilians that has resulted in concerns about suicide, workplace burnout and hostility.

Marine Pvt. Anthony W. Romanocaruso was attending training at Fort Meade when he was found dead inside his barracks on May 23, 2012. Officials were investigating his death as a suicide.

“The operations tempo [of the military], global wars, fighting two wars, are causing a lot of stress,” said Kenneth Jones, Army Substance Abuse Program manager.

“We’re obviously concerned about the Soldiers, the increase in suicide activity – gestures, attempts – and thoughts of suicide,” he said. “We’re starting to see cases of Department of the Army civilians under serious stress – expressing self-harm and thoughts of harm.”

Jones said the operations tempo of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and repeated deployments have taken a toll on the Army in general.
Although Fort Meade does not deploy large numbers of Soldiers such as Fort Bragg, N.C., or Fort Campbell, Ky., those individual service members who do deploy do not have the same support that comes from the camaraderie of deploying with a large unit, Jones said.

In addition, Fort Meade also deploys an increasing number of government civilians who deploy as individuals and do not benefit from unit camaraderie.

Dr. Mark Fisher, chief of behavior pediatrics at Kimbrough Ambulatory Care Center and a Medical Department Activity subject matter expert on suicide, said Soldiers are experiencing stress from working long hours with decreased resources, deployments and family issues.

“Stress comes in the form of relationship problems at work and home, loss of sleep, anxiety, depressed moods, irritability and sometimes decreased productivity,” Fisher said. “With stressors and other risk factors piling up, along with a decreased sense of hope and not seeing a way out of their problems, service members start to think about not wanting to live or of killing themselves.”

Victor Arthur, Risk Reduction Program coordinator for ASAP, routinely surveys units on post using the Army’s anonymous Unit Risk Inventory to determine how susceptible Soldiers are to risk factors relating to alcohol and drugs, and other stressors.

Arthur surveys Soldiers who are within 30 days of deployment and those who have returned from deployment.

Within the past four months, 10 Soldiers have answered positively that they have had suicidal thoughts, Arthur said. Three Soldiers responded that they have made a plan to commit suicide.

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