$10 Million More for Military Suicide Prevention

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The House approved an amendment to next year’s defense spending bill Wednesday night that shifts $10 million from training Afghan security forces to fighting suicide in the ranks of the U.S. military.

“This is the most recent issue of Time magazine, reporting that military and veteran suicide is a tragic epidemic that has only gotten worse,” Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, said on the House floor, using a blown-up copy of the cover by Nancy Gibbs and me as a prop. “We are losing too many of our heroes,” said Boswell, a 20-year Army veteran. “It’s up to us to act.”

Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., was a co-sponsor of the amendment. “This week’s Time magazine, as you see from that front page, describes military suicides as an epidemic,” McDermott said. “I would like to take $10 million out of a $5 billion fund in this amendment to go beyond the funding for existing suicide prevention services, and toward modifying the culture that keeps some from seeking help. We must also note that any progress in suicide prevention will be fleeting if we don’t focus on reducing the stigma associated with seeking psychological health services among our active-duty people.”

He added:

I believe the Pentagon can do more to eradicate barriers to mental health care. This means ensuring that mental health and substance abuse issues are treated as medical issues and are taken out of the realm of personnel matters. This means ensuring that seeking and receiving psychological health care does nothing to jeopardize a soldier’s security clearance or prospects in his future career.

I would also urge the Pentagon to ensure that a portion of this money goes toward hiring, development and retention of top-tier psychological health talent for our military at this time. It is the tale of cost of this war that nobody calculates when we go to war. What do we do when the people come home? We forget them. We think they should pull themselves together and go back to their regular life. And many of them can’t do it without some help. We need to provide it. They become desperate, figure there’s no hope and take their own life. That shouldn’t happen to a 24-year-old kid, man or woman, who has been in Afghanistan or Iraq giving to our country what we ask from them. Their willingness to risk the whole business of going to war has to be dealt with when they come home.

Other lawmakers joined in support including Rep. Bill Young, the Florida Republican who chairs the defense appropriations subcommittee. He said he has “opposed similar amendments in the past because of the source of the funding, the defense-wide O&M accounts which we just really cannot afford to cut into our readiness accounts.” But he approved of Boswell’s measure because it reduced funding for the Afghan – instead of the U.S. – military (apparently suicide doesn’t hurt readiness).

Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., the ranking member of the subcommittee, also voiced support. “This is a tragedy when more people are dying from suicide than are in combat,” he said. “I know the Army has tried. General [Peter] Chiarelli [the Army’s former No. 2 officer and chief suicide-fighter until his retirement in January] made an enormous effort to try to find the answers, and it’s a serious, difficult problem. And a lot of it relies on trying to deal with these people before they go over so that you can find the ones that are going to be susceptible or have problems going in. It’s just a very difficult problem.”

The House approved the measure by voice vote; the Senate also has to agree before the plus-up in suicide-prevention funds becomes law.


As parents of an Army officer currently in Afghanistan (his fifth deployment) we are especially concerned.   Following his third deployment our son began experiencing occasional bouts of depression, but was always able to "suck it up" and "power through." Lately, however, he's been exhibiting fresh signs of malaise.  So understandably on reading this article we're alarmed.

A recurring theme in the story is the Army's inability to tie these incidents to any common cause; nearly a third of the suicides from 2005 to 2010 were among troops who had never deployed, and 43% had deployed only once.  The fact that 95% of the the cases are male and that most of them are married may provide a clue.

Frequent, extended separations from one's family are one thing.  Months of anticipating the next of these ordeals can be excruciating.  And there's little to look forward to following deployments - on returning from his last one my son had three days off and then back to 6am reports for duty periods lasting until 6 in the evening.  He used to enjoy the pressures and stresses of his job but increasingly finds them "relentless" and "oppressive" - especially since the Army has begun downsizing, resulting in an increased workload on those officers remaining.  Even when he's home he feels more married to the Army than to his wife.

There is another recurring theme in our son's complaints.  "All these guys over here making these sacrifices," he'll say, and "it's like no one back home even knows or cares.  So many Americans have no dog in this hunt.  It's all about movies and sports and American Idol."

In World War II, Korea and even Vietnam  virtually all Americans in every strata of our society had "a dog in the hunt."  Not so in our current conflicts, which have become an endless ordeal relegated to an all-volunteer military - a force comprising approximately 1% of our citizens who increasingly see themselves making difficult, dangerous and thankless sacrifices with no end and no relief in sight, not even if they make it back home.

One thing is certain; as this article illuminates, depression and suicide in the military is a growing problem, and the military has yet to find a solution. In an era of endless conflict and simultaneous belt-tightening is it possible our military leadership, especially in the Army, has established an unreasonable level of expectation for a dwindling force?

Thank you, Time Magazine, for shining a big, cover-story light on this growing phenomenon.  Whether our military leadership will take real, meaningful steps to reverse this alarming trend remains to be seen.


Mark - you and your tireless efforts - you are the change.  Working directly in the units, specially trained employees are also the change.  But as suicide report says, when leadership fails, all fail.  We believe our method brought positive results but when the chain wants you to concentrate and perform the tangential issues instead of addressing the suicide problems directly, then as callous as this may seem, then leadership has blood on their hands.


While it is encouraging to see that one of the nation's political leaders actually took the time to read the article, have a giant Time magazine prop constructed, and use up his precious floor time to talk about the military suicide epidemic .... the sad reality is that this is not an issue of fiscal deficiencies ... it is an issue primarily of leadership deficiencies and the unwillingness of service branch generals to enact legitimate and effective policy that would hold unit leaders accountable when they continue down the "business as usual" path, taking no meaningful action to end command cultures that allow STIGMA to survive and keep soldiers in fear of seeking help.

Money may help in getting a few more doctors hired. However, the military could have a 1:1 ratio of doctor to soldier, but unless the STIGMA ends at the lowest unit levels -- only leaders can enforce such change -- and soldiers truly feel safe to step forward and ask for help without consequences, the number of those choosing to "just suck it up," avoid treatment, and ultimately take their own life will continue to climb and climb.

Soldiers are smart. Just having the general or sergeant major stand up at a briefing and say "it's okay to step forward and ask for help" doesn't mean that it is so.

In most corners of the military, I am suggesting STIGMA is significant and that self-identifying and asking for help still carries consequences in varying degrees.

Leaders must be held accountable for suicide prevention RESULTS in their unit. Nothing will change until this happens in policy. Field a policy that is tied to promotions and command assignments and you will immediately see positive results. Lives will be saved.

Praise to the authors and editors for their work putting a light on this issue to inform the nation of what is happening to the young Americans serving in the military today. The more serious issue however remains in the demographic of recently discharged veterans.

The cover should have been, "18 A DAY".

Diane Cambridge
Diane Cambridge

I watched the interviews with charlie rose last night. what i got from that is that the military, esp the army who is hardest hit by this, does not know where to put the money to help the problem and that suicide is not really the problem but a tragic result of many problems. helping our militry heal hidden wounds seems to be a running theme. how to accomplish that will take all of our insights. this rising cost of war leaks into society as well so solving it in military circles might help reduce it in USA teens, who are also killing themselves at higer rates. I hope someone out there has the insight to begin the healing proces.


 10 MILLION $ for suicide prevention?!

I don't know about you, but with that kind of money I wouldn't want to kill myself.


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