News Details

Military Continues Battle Against Suicide

By Lisa Ferdinando

Source: Department of Defense
Published: Monday 22 September, 2014

WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2014 – Every suicide in the force is tragic, a top National Guard leader said recently, and the number of these deaths needs to be reduced to zero.

Army National Guard Brig. Gen. Michael E. Bobeck, special assistant to the director of the Army National Guard, spoke Sept. 19 at the Psychological Health and Resilience Summit at Defense Health Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia. His topic was “Resilience and Psychological Efforts in the DoD.”

“Suicide and high-risk behavior reduction remains an incredibly difficult problem and has the top interest of our Army senior leaders as well as our Department of Defense,” Bobeck said. “We need to continue to work and strive to reduce high-risk behavior and suicides across our force.”

Number of soldier-suicides down

Bobeck said the Army National Guard had 120 suicides in 2013. There have been 44 this year, he said.

“That’s tragic that we’ve even had 44, but that’s a significant difference in number,” Bobeck said. “We’ve made a tremendous investment in our resiliency campaigns and our resiliency training. Can we tie that directly to that? We’re still looking at that, but we know we’ve had a significant reduction.”

Yet, each soldier’s suicide “is still tragic,” said Bobeck, who noted the necessity of reducing the incidence of such tragedies “to zero.”

Eliminate stigma of seeking help

The stigma associated with getting help for psychological issues needs to be eliminated, he said. Soldiers seeking treatment also need to fully disclose their conditions and not be afraid to report the issues they are facing, he added.

National Guard soldiers face challenges in accessing health programs, Bobeck said, as many live in communities far from where the military health programs are offered.
“Because of our geographically dispersed, part-time nature of our force, our behavioral health programs have to adapt to serve our unique needs,” Bobeck said. “Our soldiers don’t live near large bases, we don’t have continual access to clinics and we don’t come together on a daily basis.”

‘Invisible’ wounds can emerge

National Guard soldiers are screened before, during and after deployments, Bobeck noted. Follow-up assessments need to occur in the months and years after deployments, he said, when the “invisible” wounds can emerge from traumatic brain injury or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“What we’ve found is that many of the DoD and the Army health programs are designed for active-duty soldiers and that component,” Bobeck said. “We have to think differently on how we deliver services to our men and women in this unique population.”

Duty status also impacts the availability of health care, he said.

Bobeck said the National Guard and Army Reserve are looking at several different unified budget legislation actions to help change some policies and allow members to access care regardless of their status.

Nation at war

Members of the National Guard are citizens who work, go to school, live in their communities, and are always ready to serve the nation whenever called upon, Bobeck said.

“They have been heavily engaged in combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 13 years, and as well as responding to national emergencies at the national level as well as at the state level,” he said.

“Our men and women serving in the National Guard today are not in a Guard that their grandfather served in,” Bobeck said.

“We are definitely training more than a weekend a month and two weeks during the summer, and that shows by the readiness of our men and women to respond to emergencies in their state as well as being able to quickly mobilize and deploy for operations overseas.”

Health and resiliency programs need to address the needs and challenges of the diverse National Guard locations, Bobeck said.
“One program does not fit all 50 states and territories,” he said.

Fiscal challenges

Budget cuts are forcing “tough resource decisions,” Bobeck said. The Army across the force has allocated a “tremendous amount of time and resources” over the past 13 years for resiliency programs for family support, employment assistance, substance abuse and programs to prevent and respond to sexual harassment and sexual assault, he said.

“We know that these budget cuts that are coming are forcing us to take a hard look at all of those programs, balance those resources, look for program efficiencies, as well as partner with other not only services but other organizations to continue to provide that access for our men and women,” he said.
“And it’s hard to do,” the general added.

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