Report: Commanders partly to blame for suicides

July 29, 2010 8:49:45 PM PDT
A new Army report says commanders are partly to blame for the number of soldiers who are committing suicide. The report comes after a 15-month study of crime and violence among soldiers.

The 300-plus page report says the Army is failing its soldiers by missing signs of trouble.

"We know that 60 percent of the suicides that we have today are first-term soldiers," Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter Chiarelli said. "Those are soldiers who are in their first enlistment and the most dangerous year to be a soldier is your first year in the United States Army."

It's what Chris Scheuerman has been saying since his son committed suicide in Iraq in 2005.

"All the warning signs were there," Scheuerman said. "It was clear he was suffering deep depression and he was ignored and abused until he took his own life."

Last year, 160 Army soldiers killed themselves and six of them were from Fort Bragg. So far this year, four Fort Bragg-based soldiers have committed suicide and two deaths are under investigation.

The report also found gaps in policies and programs to reduce soldiers' risky behaviors --revealing a lack of discipline, commanders overlooking or ignoring signs of trouble and an increase in drug and alcohol abuse.

The report says the ramped up tempo of Army life with repeated and faster deployments underlies the problem.

At a suicide prevention roundtable discussion at Fort Bragg last week, commanders and mental health exerts said deployments aren't the main reason soldiers take their lives.

"The leading cause of suicide, and this is true across the civilian worlds as well as the military are number one personal relationship failures," Suicide Prevention Program Manager Larry Holland said. "Number two professional failures, and number three financially failures."

The Army report recommends improving soldier and family support, leadership accountability and stepped up drug and mental health programs that encourage soldiers in distress and seek help.

In an effort to prevent suicides, Fort Bragg has hired two additional professional suicide prevention specialists and increased the number of workshops training soldiers on how to stop someone from attempting suicide.

Experts say another key is teaching soldiers to keep an eye on their battle buddies and if the need arises, getting that friend some help.

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