Army to Renew Efforts to Combat High Suicide Rates
by Jeremy Schwartz
AMERICAN-Statesman, June 22, 2012
FORT HOOD — The Army chief of staff on Friday said he will dispatch top Army officials to major installations across the country to study suicide prevention efforts in hopes of lowering record suicide rates among active duty service members.
Gen. Ray Odierno made the announcement during a visit to Fort Hood, where alarming suicide numbers have helped galvanize national attention on the issue in recent years.
“Obviously suicide continues to be a major concern. It’s something that is vexing to us, and we have studied it incredibly hard,” Odierno told reporters. “We’re focused on this, and we’re going to sustain our focus on this.”
We have to make clear that we will not tolerate actions that belittle, that haze, that ostracize any individual, particularly those who have made the decision to seek professional help. — Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Odierno said Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Lloyd Austin would visit Army posts to study existing suicide prevention programs and look for improvements.
The Army has spent millions of dollars to implement a range of suicide prevention programs, but solutions have proven elusive so far: The Associated Press recently reported that active-duty suicide rates are at their highest point in the past decade, as the U.S. has waged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Odierno spoke hours after Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told an annual convention on military suicide in Washington, D.C., that suicide numbers among service members are moving in a “tragic direction.”
Panetta said part of the solution lies with commanding officers who have day-to-day contact with their troops.
“We have to make clear that we will not tolerate actions that belittle, that haze, that ostracize any individual, particularly those who have made the decision to seek professional help,” Panetta said in a speech to mental health professionals.
Panetta, who pledged to elevate mental fitness to the same level of importance as physical fitness, called suicide perhaps the most frustrating challenge he has come across since becoming defense secretary, in part because the trend is heading in the wrong direction even as more resources are aimed at the problem.
At Fort Hood, there have been 7 suicides this year as of early June, on pace to eclipse last year’s 10, but still less than the record 22 suicides in 2010, when one particularly difficult week saw four soldiers commit suicide.
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