Tag Archives: Military Suicides

U.S. Active-Duty Military Suicides Near Record Highs in 2018

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Lt. Cmdr. Karen Downer writes a name on a Suicide Awareness Memorial Canvas in honor of Suicide Awareness Month at Naval Hospital Jacksonville, Sept. 10, 2018. (U.S. Navy/Jacob Sippel, Naval Hospital Jacksonville).

“MILITARY.COM”

“The U.S. military finished 2018 with a troubling, sad statistic: It experienced the highest number of suicides among active-duty personnel in at least six years.

A total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year, including 57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers. “

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“A total of 321 active-duty members took their lives during the year, including 57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers.

The deaths equal the total number of active-duty personnel who died by suicide in 2012, the record since the services began closely tracking the issue in 2001.

Suicide continues to present a challenge to the Pentagon and the military services, which have instituted numerous programs to save lives, raise awareness and promote prevention. Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, in his 2019 guidance to Marines released Friday, urged them to consider the lasting impact that a “permanent solution to a temporary problem” can have.

“We pride ourselves on building tough, resilient, mission-focused Marines, but we also pride ourselves on taking care of our own. … While there is no dishonor in coming up short or needing help, there is no honor in quitting. MARINES NEVER QUIT ON EACH OTHER!” Neller wrote.

The Corps’ 57 active-duty deaths represent a 25 percent increase from 2017, the highest number of suicides since the service began closely tracking them in 2001.

The Corps also lost 18 Reserve members in 2018 to suicide, second only to 2016, when 19 Marine reservists took their own lives. The service began tracking such deaths in the reserve component in 2012.

The number of Navy suicides — 68 sailors in 2018, up from 65 in 2017 — also was a record and marked a steep increase in the suicide rate among active-duty Navy personnel. Just five years ago, when the Navy recorded 41 suicides among active-duty sailors, the suicide rate was 12.7 deaths per 100,000 sailors; now the rate is more than 20 deaths per 100,000. The Navy is the only service that publishes its data, including calculated suicide rates, online.

According to Air Force officials, 58 active-duty airmen took their lives, while three Reserve members died by their own hands. The number represents a decline from previous years, down from 63 in 2015 and 2017, and 61 in 2016, but is still troubling, said Brig. Gen. Michael Martin, director of Air Force Integrated Resilience.

“We are not satisfied with flat-lined suicide death numbers. The Air Force is dedicated to a comprehensive, leadership-driven strategy with the ultimate goal of supporting airmen and their families early with a robust network and never losing another airman to suicide,” Martin said in a statement.

The Army referred requests on the data to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, which has not published the year-end totals. But it also noted in an email that 138 soldiers died as the result of suicide in 2018.

Those deaths mark the highest number of suicides in the active-duty Army since 2012, but are markedly lower than that year, when 165 soldiers took their own lives.

The U.S. military is not unique in struggling with the impact of suicide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased in nearly every state since 1999. And while mental health conditions often are seen as the cause of suicide, it’s “rarely caused by any single factor,” according to the CDC.

DSPO has been without a permanent chief since October 2017, when former director Keita Franklin moved to head the Department of Veterans Affairs‘ suicide prevention office.

It last sponsored a conference on suicide prevention in August 2017 and held a suicide prevention month in September 2018, which included hosting an outreach event, attending resource fairs at various locations, and promoting awareness campaigns.

The suicide rates for the military services — data that help Pentagon leadership understand the scope of the issue compared with civilian populations — are not generally published by the individual services. They are calculated based on the number of deaths and population of the services and published in an annual DoD Suicide Event Report, or DoDSER.

The last DoDSER was for 2016, when the rate across all the military services was 21.1 deaths per 100,000 active-duty service members.

Rates for the individual services that year were:

  • 19.4 per 100,000, based on 61 deaths, for the Air Force;
  • 26.7 per 100,000, based on 127 deaths, for the Army;
  • 15.3 per 100,000 based on 50 deaths, for the Navy;
  • and 21 per 100,000, based on 37 deaths, for the Marine Corps.

According to the Navy, the adjusted rate of suicide in the civilian population for men of the same age as those who serve in the armed forces, is 26.8 per 100,000.

Military personnel who need need help can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255.  Suicidal troops and veterans can call the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-8255, press 1, for assistance, or text 838255.”

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/01/30/active-duty-military-suicides-near-record-highs-2018.html

Top U.S. Commando Tells Troops: Get Counseling, I Did

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Votel_official_photo_USSOCOM                                                   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Votel

“THE DAILY BEAST”

“I have, with my family, sought counseling and assistance,” said Special Operations Command’s General Joseph Votel…

In laymen’s terms, a body under constant threat that goes on missions night after night pumps out adrenaline at such a constant rate that it gets out of whack and can’t readily adjust to the relatively threat-free environment at home.

The therapy can help troops deal with the grief of losing a teammate or unlock a traumatic memory so the brain can stop going over it repeatedly. But sometimes, the counseling is simply to train an operator to “down regulate” after deployment.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Suicides by special operators have fallen for two years straight. But the rates are still among the highest in the military. And that’s prompting the ordinarily tight-lipped commander of the elite forces to speak frankly about seeking help, and all but ordering his troops to do the same.

The high rate of special operations suicides as compared to the other services reflects the strain of more than a decade of deployments since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001—a trend that continues for special operators even as most conventional forces come home.

It also reflects the continued stigma against seeking counseling that is arguably even fiercer among special operators than conventional forces. It literally goes against their training, which often requires pushing through pain to reach a target on the battlefield.

Votel, who last led the elite Joint Special Operations Command, said that is changing, with more special operators seeking help.

“I’m also seeing an increase in friends, in peers, in numbers in the chain of command who are referring to their people for help, without any further ramifications,” in terms of their careers, he said.

The famously reticent U.S. Army Ranger is speaking out because he faced a suicide crisis shortly after taking charge last summer.

In the four months from August to November of 2014, there were seven apparent suicides, five suicide attempts, and 14 cases where troops were hospitalized for “suicide ideation,” meaning they were considering taking their own life.

“We are not winning this battle yet and we need your help,” Votel wrote in a November 2014 missive to his troops, obtained by The Daily Beast.

Votel pointed to one bit of silver lining in that those 14 cases of “ideation” meant someone—either the operator, a family member or a fellow operator—had spotted the problem and intervened.

“When our leadership or people identify a person who is exhibiting behavior that indicates they may harm themselves—we act quickly,” Votel wrote.

Since then, Votel has ordered stepped-up training of how to spot the signs of stress, and the Pentagon has worked to make more counseling resources available to his people.

The Pentagon’s health affairs department has budgeted nearly $15 million this fiscal year to behavioral health resources for special operations Plus, there’s another $10 million in the special operations budget toward behavioral health and suicide prevention efforts. There’s also $1.2 million budgeted for the spiritual domain—including giving chaplains suicide intervention training, and some basic counseling training. (For many in the military—older troops—it’s easier to talk with a chaplain than with a therapist.)

Almost a fifth of special operators anonymously surveyed by Doolittle’s office this year reported that they’d sought out some form of behavioral health support, with most of them going to the psychologist, counselor or chaplain who is part of their unit, Doolittle said. That’s up from only 15 percent of those surveyed last year and 11 percent the year before.

“I can think of several peers and senior enlisted [officers] that have gone through various forms of psychological treatment,” said Doolittle.

“Some kept it on the down-low, but some folks have been very vocal,” which has helped degrade the view of seeking counseling as weakness, he said.

What has arguably helped the most is embedding psychologists and other types of counselors available in special operations units and also borrowing the practice of using “military family life counselors” for operators and families alike. They provide what some troops refer to as “Starbucks therapy”—meetings outside the base that don’t appear in the service member’s record, or even get written down at all.

“When you are talking about convincing the guy to drive across base and go see a psych at a medical treatment facility—quite honestly, we’ve had problems with that,” Doolittle said. But give them a chance to talk to someone they see in the gym and the chow hall every day, and there’s less stigma—one reason chaplains in places like Afghanistan invest in expensive coffeemakers to plant outside their offices to give troops one more reason to stop by.

“For every one operator or support person that’s gone to a medical treatment facility, roughly another three are going to that ‘embedded’ care [team],” Doolittle said.

In 2015, there will be a total of 131 special operations-specific behavioral health professionals “embedded” in SOCOM units and bases, up from just 60 in 2013.

That’s on top of dozens more made available by the various services who are both embedded in special operations units and across the military health system.

There are also counselors available to help families get re-acquainted after multiple deployments that can turn an operator into a stranger in his or her own home.

The harder-to-teach skills are convincing an operator to incorporate breathing or meditation into their daily training and getting regular sleep, so their brains can process and deal with the memories of whatever they saw during the day.

But SOCOM is trying to teach that, too, experimenting with programs that teach everything from yoga to “accelerated resolution therapy,” in which an operator replays an incident in his or her head like a movie, allowing the brain to “process” the tough memory and put it away.

The sting in the tail: Those who don’t take aim at their issues end up in a spiral of drinking, divorce, and worse, and end up out of the brotherhood that is the reason they stay quiet about the trauma in the first place.

That’s why the leading quiet professional Votel is slightly less silent when it comes to suicide.”

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/10/top-u-s-commando-tells-troops-get-counseling-i-did.html