Top DoD Officer Gen Martin Dempsey Punts on Military Suicide Question: “We Really Need to Continue to Learn About What’s Happening”

Gen Martin Dempsey addressing national reporters after a lunch party at Washington D.C.’s National Press Club on Oct. 10, 2012, linked the ongoing military suicide epidemic to societal problems inherent in unresilient recruits. “You know, the young men serving. Suicide is a national problem. It also happens to be a dire, important, serious military problem. But something out there is changing in the resilience of young men and women today,” Dempsey said. (Getty)

Pentagon’s Top Military Officer Claims Suicide Epidemic Remains Poorly Understood Problem, Rooted in Society; Calls for More Resilience Training

by Gen. Martin Dempsey
National Press Club, Oct. 10, 2012


Q: What is the next step to reducing suicides among active duty service members?

A: Yeah, I, ya know … ‘step’ implies there is something sequential here and it’s not.

This is really another one that, ya know, you just, we really need to continue, to learn about what’s happening.

Now look, some of it is societal.

You know, the young men serving … Suicide is a national problem.

It also happens to be a dire, important, serious military problem. But something out there is changing in the resilience of young men and women today.

And so, one of the things we’re looking at is what do you gotta do when you recruit these young men and women off the streets of America, ya know.

How do we, how do we build resilience into the force — from birth — and how do ya sustain it through a career where there are pressures; whether it’s a deployment, or whether it’s combat, or whether it’s even life, whether it’s life-altering incidents; divorce, ya know financial challenges?

It’s, it’s really an issue of building resilience over time.

Secondly, there is, ya know, there is a correlation. There’s a medical component of that — I think — that we’ve gotta address; and there’s also ya know the, the, the, the, the trust of the force is really what I think ultimately provides us the best chance to get, to get a grip on this. And here’s what I mean by that.

If I show up in a unit and I can’t do enough push-ups to pass the PT [physical training] test … you know that some sergeant is gonna be out there and say, “Come here young man. I want you to partner with her. She maxes her PT test every time she takes it.”

And so for the next three months you’re gonna do physical training with her. And by the end of that time you’re gonna pass the PT test.

There’s really nothing exactly like that for, for, ya know, states of depression.

And, um, that’s what we gotta figure out; is how do you get the entire force, not just the leaders. The leaders understand it … that’s not true … the leaders understand the significance of it.

I’m not sure we really understand the depth and breadth of the issue.

But, the leaders get it.

We gotta drive it to the lowest level.

It’s not preventable, back to the same, you know, you asked me can we stop insiders threats? No, but were trying to do as much as we can. Can you stop suicides? No, but we gotta do as much as we can and we gotta keep at it.

View Gen Dempsey’s speech at its source:


6 Responses

  1. Important point here — a point with significant merit given the reluctance for VA-DoD to take any bold action to stop the 6,500 (low VA estimate) veterans suicide deaths each year — that must be examined more closely by the concerned among national leadership:

    The average lifetime cost to VA-DoD for a single veteran with PTSD diagnosis is estimated to be $1.5 million.

    Annual savings per year to deaths by suicide is not insignificant.

    Think about it … deeply.

  2. Thank you sincerely for your participation on this blog CPT. Please keep sharing your vision, insights and experiences. So glad to have you.

  3. “If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.” General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, 1 July, 1916

    I’m not sure I’d call Gen Dempsey’s remarks a “punt”, no I think they are more in keeping with a “fumble”. Perhaps the General needs to take a look at the volumes of texts (not the electronic mindless drivel most are currently familiar with) written over the centuries about the effects of war on it’s warriors, to explore the issues surrounding the historically high rates of suicide among our troops.

    To make it a busy easier on him-as I’m sure he’s got a few other issues on his plate, maybe he should start with the movie: Regeneration which give a good look at PTSD in soldiers during WWI.

    Of course he can then get a mostly excellent review about PTSD in soldiers throughout several US wars, but spend most of the time with current PTSD issues. This Dvd is called “Wartorn”.

    If nothing else, the General, who appears to be looking for a scapegoat in which to remove himself and the military from any possible blame, has like many others turned his back upon those he leads.

  4. No one in the Military suggests or introduces intensive & extensive integrative and holistic health services promote healing and prevent suicides. They just purchase more antipsychotic drugs and hire more mental health therapists to label and drug our vets and returning warriors. See our approach that works:

    • You are absolutely correct in your statement Jerry. There are a wide range of valuable, therapeutic options, which utilize creative holistic methods tailored to the specific needs of the individual. Sadly though, we live in a fast paced world, that wants to pigeon hole as many as it can, and administer a one size fits all solution to “fix” them.

      It can be boiled down pretty easily into “time” and “money”. The fact remains that your suggestion, as correct as it is, is that those who are looking for a quick fix, bought in bulk, and thus inexpensively applied , can’t quantify the results of those of us who take the time to build a relationship with our clients, and develop creative, non-pharmaceutical, therapies which begins with simply “listening” to them.

      Because no two clients present in the same way, have the same needs, issues…and because often times the “success rate” really can’t be said as an absolute…those who push for specific, limited, methods-methods for which a mathematical formula can be applied, are left shaking their heads at holistic approaches and dismissing them out of hand.

      Meanwhile the death rate among soldiers who have lost all hope goes up.

      • Thank you, Captain. It is so true that everyone we see is unique and requires individualized and holistic health services for recovery, restoration and resilience. Combat arms warriors that I meet with have had a life experience of their own and when seriously stressed, anxious, depressed, experience despair, dissillusionment and suicide ideation. They lose hope to return to their “high” level of functioning, of consciousness & of being during their missions.

        When our soldiers design an individualize health plan, have a support group and receive intensive & extensive integrative health services they all get better. As Dr. Fortunato said during our work in the Ft Bliss Restoration & Resilience Center, “little miracles happen every day.”

        Health practices slow down the human process that our injured service members experienced in deployment (often for several years) producing excessive stress, anxiety and depression on the entire organism and family–physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and socially as you know. Thank you for reporting on the dangers of these pharmaceuticals.

        I really appreciate your contributions to this discussion of Suicide.

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