Aug 27, 2010

DoD Suicide Task Force Contradicts Army Findings

Contradicting the U.S. Army's suicide prevention report, an independent DoD report released this week failed to place the blame for servicemembers' and veterans' suicide rate on "high risk behavior" at home, implicating the suicide victims themselves.

Instead, the DoD Task Force on the Prevention of Suicide by Members of the Armed Forces' report [see exec summary] listed 13 foundational recommendations utilizing a "comprehensive public health approach" as a guiding principle vis a vis last month's Army's report which as veterans' advocate, Steve Robinson said points to "a lack of moral character, and a lack of intestinal fortitude" as the proximate cause for military and veterans' suicide.

Wonder if the Army brass cares that it looks like a bunch of knuckleheads. I'm betting not.

By Bryan Maxwell at the IAVA
This week a congressionally mandated task force released its final report on military suicides to the Pentagon citing “heightened operational tempo, repeated deployments and insufficient quantity and quality of dwell time” as contributing to incredibly high suicide rates in the military.

The reportnoted that from 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 servicemembers committed suicide—an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours. Suicide rates in the Marine Corps and Army have severely increased and the Army rate has more than doubled. Since 2001, 252 servicemembers have killed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The task force recognized efforts made by all military branches to prevent suicide, but concluded that they are a falling short because the programs are not centrally organized. The rush to respond to the challenge and the lack of strategic planning has led to unintended consequences. These include, inefficient programs and missed prevention opportunities.

To address this fundamental problem the task force recommended creating a “Suicide Prevention Policy Division” at the Office of the Secretary of Defense to centralize planning and implementation. Additionally, the task force had 49 findings and made 76 targeted recommendations, including:

  • Reduce stress on the force

  • Focus on overall servicemember well-being (mind, body, and spirit)

  • Develop Comprehensive Stigma Reduction Campaign Plan

  • Hold leaders accountable to ensure positive command climate

  • Develop skills-based training regarding suicide prevention

  • Coordinate and leverage the strengths of installation and community support services for both Active and Reserve component servicemembers

  • Standardize suicide investigations

  • Support and fund ongoing DoD suicide prevention research

The task force, established by the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, was composed of seven DoD officials and seven non-DoD officials with broad military and civilian expertise. Co-chairs included Major General Philip Volpe, Commanding General of the Army’s Western Regional Medical Command and Ms. Bonnie Carroll, Director of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). The report now goes to Defense Secretary Gates, who has 90 days to approve the report and submit it to Congress.

To end the suicide epidemic, IAVA continues to call on the VA and DoD to address this problem. We need a nationwide campaign to combat suicide and promote the use of DoD and VA services such as Vet Centers and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The recently released task force report is a step in the right direction, but until there is a national campaign targeting every servicemember and veteran, many will continue to fall through the cracks.

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