UPDATED: “Keith is Dead … he Committed Suicide”

Leaders at Fort Hood, Texas, participate in the Army’s suicide stand down which took place at bases worldwide on Sept. 27, 2012. According to Army Chief of Staff Gen Ray Odierno, at least 237 soldiers have died by their own hand so far in 2012. “I need you to get pissed off about this, team. Until you own it – that you, as a person, are going to take charge – we’re not going to solve the problem,” said Army senior enlisted leader Sgt Maj Raymond Chandler Oct. 2 to a group of about 100 soldiers near Bagram, Afghanistan. Odierno said 283 soldiers died of suicide in 2011. “[Commanders] want to create a command climate where people can come forward and admit they have problems looking to get help, but we still have a cultural problem down to the lowest level where people fear retaliation; they fear, ‘what are the impacts on career if I come forward and admit I have a problem?’” Odierno said. (Killeen Daily Herald)

BLOGBACK: The Military Suicide Report does not endorse use of the word “committed” in describing the act of suicide. However, as used here, the writer has selected this specific language for an important reason. This telling point is highlighted to provide an instructional moment for readers. This post offers a more clear window into the traditional culture of stigma which is firmly fixed within the ranks. As used in the context of describing suicide, the word “committed” is suggestive of malbehavior, much in the same manner one would speak of a criminal act, or “committing” a crime. The writer’s reaction to her platoon mate’s death from suicide must also be noted as significant. “I was angry at him for completing this selfish act …,” she writes. Once again, the specific language is instructive in that it reflects the military’s obvious stubborn culture of stigma.

Maj Gen Dana Pittard, the Army’s senior officer leading soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, sadly, has contributed to and encouraged such a culture. Writing earlier this year on a military blog to his subordinates and their families, Pittard used near identical phraseology when he wrote about suicide and the soldiers serving under his command. “I have now come to the conclusion that suicide is an absolutely selfish act. I am personally fed up with soldiers who are choosing to take their own lives so that others can clean up their mess. Be an adult, act like an adult, and deal with your real-life problems like the rest of us,” he wrote. Although Pittard later retracted his statement — most likely a political move on the advice of his PR advisors — suicide prevention experts and veterans advocates alike rightly noted Pittard never actually said he was “sorry” for his harsh words. Equally illustrative of the culture was the response by Pittard’s bosses at the Pentagon and in Washington. DoD leaders remained eerily silent in the days after the general’s public scolding of suicidal soldiers struggling with ‘invisible wounds’.

Dana Pittard, commanding general at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Military leaders at every level — especially senior officers and their civilian bosses — must very carefully consider the impact of their example, both in deeds and speech. Failure in this arena only becomes nutrition to stigma and will contribute to further loss of life through suicide.

SUICIDE PREVENTION: Supporting Troops More Than a Slogan

by Victoria Miller
York Daily Record, Oct. 5, 2012

*Note: US Army officials report at least 237 suicide deaths to date this year as of Oct.1, 2012.

Suicide in the military has reached an alarming rate in the past few years, and 2012 is not looking any better. As of June of this year, the Pentagon reported 127 combat deaths and 154 deaths by suicide.

More soldiers are taking their own lives than our enemies are inflicting on our armed forces.

I was in the U.S. Army Reserves for nine years. Everyone in my company shared similar thoughts about the Suicide Prevention briefing: one more annual briefing to be endured. Who comes up with this stuff?

“Suicide” was just another word, and I would sit with my fellow soldiers and listen to the words of the instructor and look at the PowerPoint slides containing statistics and the occasional video of someone telling his or her story either about thinking of committing suicide or knowing someone who had completed suicide.

It was all very mundane and meaningless to me until August 2010.

On a beautiful summer morning I was at work and received a phone call that would change my life and my view on the word “suicide” forever. On the other end of the phone was a military friend, and even two years later his words echo in my mind.

“Keith is dead,” is what I heard, “he committed suicide.”

Read the rest of this story:



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