Friday, July 30, 2010

Report links suicide spike to risky behaviors

By Kelly Kennedy - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Jul 29, 2010 16:17:09 EDT

After releasing a 300-page report designed to address the Army’s record suicide rates, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the service’s vice chief, acknowledged that the wars have caused leaders to lose sight of the needs of their soldiers.

Chiarelli said Army leadership made the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan its first priority — “as you would want us to” — but that means sergeants have learned more about training for war than about the resources their troops may need, such as financial assistance or substance-abuse counseling.

“We prioritized, as you would want us to, to fight our nation’s wars,” Chiarelli said during a Pentagon briefing Thursday. “Now as we come back … it’s time for the Army to take a long look at itself.”

Last fiscal year, 239 soldiers killed themselves; 160 of them were on active duty. Another 146 soldiers died due to high-risk activities, including 74 drug overdoses. And 1,713 soldiers tried to kill themselves, but were saved by a friend or by medical intervention.

The report will go out to all command sergeants major and battalion commanders to be used as educational material all the way down the chain of command.

Chiarelli said the Army’s biggest problem is a lack of accountability; soldiers who commit crimes slip through the cracks. From 2001 to 2009, there were 64,000 felony and death investigations, and 72 percent of those involved drugs. He expects 7,500 National Guard and reserve troops to test positive for marijuana in 2010. And no one is sure how many disciplinary and administrative actions have been taken because commanders and law-enforcement officials don’t always report them.

And, according to the report, only 30 percent of those involved in a DUI receive referrals for treatment, while 3,000 soldiers are expected to test positive for drugs for the second or third time in 2011.

The cracks have been bad enough that one chapter of the report is called, “The Lost Art of Leadership in Garrison.”

Many of the younger and mid-grade soldiers joined after 2001, when the country was already at war. “Before 2001, the focus was on the soldier,” an Army official said. “Now they’re so focused on the war fight, when they come home they’re not familiar with the services available to their soldiers.”

Officials say it’s hard to nail down the problem: Most who have killed themselves have deployed once or have never deployed. They are usually on their first enlistment. But 87 percent have one or more significant stressors: More than half of those have relationship issues, almost half have a behavioral health diagnosis, about a third have legal or law-enforcement problems, a quarter have an adjustment disorder, and a fifth have a substance-abuse diagnosis.

Army leaders “failed to hold soldiers accountable for their actions and allowed for risk-taking behavior—sometimes with fatal consequences,” Chiarelli wrote in the introduction to the report.

A similar study released 15 months ago brought 242 recommendations, and 240 have been implemented. This report has 247 recommendations, and about 240 of those have already been implemented. The report lays out what the Army has done and what still needs to be done.

Chiarelli emphasized resiliency training and said each recruit receives 10 hours of it in basic training. Resiliency training includes everything from developing personal strengths, addressing weaknesses and learning basic life skills, such as money management and proper behaviors in a good relationship.

“It is not the deployments that [are] causing this problem,” Chiarelli said. “It’s all the stressors that you see. For us to blame this on the war is just wrong.”

But he acknowledged that the in-theater suicides push the Army numbers up into record-breaking territory.

He said the report would allow his leaders to better understand who is at risk and how to help them.

“Soldiers need firm, consistent leadership,” he said.

--Source: The Army Times

Read the report here.

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