Top DoD Leader Panetta Hints at ‘Ass Kickings’ to End Military Suicide Epidemic, Puts Uniformed Leaders on Notice

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said military leaders should be “judged” on their leadership on suicide prevention, although he left unclear precisely what he meant. Veterans advocates have long called for senior military leaders to be held accountable when they ignore regulations and policies governing suicide prevention and mental health care for their subordinates who kill themselves. To date, no military commander has been disciplined in any case involving a service member’s suicide. Since 2008, it’s estimated there have been more than 1,000 active duty suicides. The number of Reserve, Guard and Ready Reserve suicides remains unknown. (DoD)

Military Leaders Must Help Stem Suicides, Panetta Says

by Gregg Zoroya
USA TODAY, Sept. 16, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says military leaders should be held accountable for whether they succeed in helping desperate troops avoid choosing suicide — which he has described as an epidemic in the military and now averaging more than one a day.

“What I’ve tried to do, very frankly, is to make sure that not only the secretary (of Defense), but all of the military leadership kick ass on this issue,” Panetta told USA TODAY in an interview. “Leaders ought to be judged by how they lead on this issue.”

He also said that the last decade of fighting two wars holds “lots of lessons” to be learned about “the human side of this prolonged warfare and how do we get a handle” on problems such as traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Pentagon is facing a record year of suicides among active-duty troops, averaging 33 deaths per month so far this year, according to Pentagon data through Sept. 2.

This is an issue of leadership … leaders ought to be judged by how they lead on this kind of issue.

— Defense Secretary Leon Panetta

“I want to make sure that we are aware of how tragic this problem is and how urgent it is for us to try and address it,” Panetta said. “We’re talking about men and women who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect this country. We have to do everything possible to try to make sure we protect them.”

Panetta spoke on the issue Saturday in part because September is national suicide prevention month.

The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines are all reporting potentially record increases this year in suicides. The Marine Corps has averaged about two suicides a week in recent months.

Read USA TODAY’s Q&A session with Leon Panetta

But the Army has suffered the highest numbers, tripling its suicide rate from 9.7 cases-per-100,000 in 2004 to 29.1-per-100,000 last month.

In July, a record 38 soldiers killed themselves, according to service data.

Among a demographically similar civilian U.S. population, the suicide rate increased from 22-per-100,000 in 2005 to 24-per-100,000 in 2009, the latest data available.

Panetta said the military is still searching for answers to what’s happening.

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