After stabilizing for three years, suicide rates in the Army are on the rise.
According to a recent USA Today interview with Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff said suicides now are the most common form of death in the Army. Reportedly, Odierno was responding to questions about 38 suicides or suspected suicides during July.
When asked to confirm this number, Hank Minitrez, Army G-1, said his office does not publish monthly reports.
“We don’t publish partial-year suicide rates until final determination of pending suicides is resolved, so (calendar year) 2012 rates are not available at this time,” he said. “We are undertaking a major effort to re-look at the (Department of Defense) level concerning how rates are computed and reported so there is consistency among reporting agencies and across all services.”
Minitrez said his office could only offer data comparing 2011’s 23.1 per 100,000 soldiers to 2010, when the rate was 22.2 per 100,000 soldiers. The USA Today article suggested a rate of 29 per 100,000 in 2012.
Minitrez said the latest demographically adjusted U.S. civilian rate his office received from the Centers for Disease Control is for 2009, which shows a suicide rate of 21.3.
During his interview, Odierno said the Army has begun a campaign to improve soldiers’ emotional resiliency, monitor soldiers’ attitudes and assess support programs. Michelle Gordon, public affairs officer for Winn Army Community Hospital, said Winn is conducting a stand-down day on Sept. 27 as part of the Army-wide stand-down to focus on suicide prevention.
“It will be open to all Fort Stewart MEDDAC soldiers and civilians, and their families,” Gordon said. “The intent is to prevent further loss of life, enhance awareness of resources available and reduce the stigma of seeking assistance for behavioral health care.”
The 3rd Infantry Division is scheduled to host its stand-down Oct. 4, she said.
She said the stand-down’s specifics have not been decided, but the event may include leader-led discussions about suicide prevention, a video public-service announcement by the MEDDAC commander, a fun-run/walk for suicide awareness and a behavioral health fair. The event is open only to MEDDAC soldiers, Stewart civilian employees and their family members.
A review of Hinesville Police Department’s daily blotter reports make it clear that suicide or the threat of suicide is not exclusive to military installations or combat zones.
HPD Sgt. Mike Gosseck said his officers frequently respond to calls about someone threatening suicide, but he couldn’t say how many of those calls are for civilian or military personnel.
“I’d say it’s both military and civilian,” Gosseck said, adding that several HPD officers have completed 40 hours in crisis intervention training. “The training doesn’t make them into counselors, but it helps them talk to people who are thinking about suicide and give them information about where they can get help. I think 99 percent of the time, we can encourage someone to seek help.”
He said police officers are the first responders to a scene, usually arriving ahead of emergency medical personnel. He said that is why it’s important for police officers to have crisis intervention training.
“We respond to any suicide or suicide threat that happens within the city limits,” Gosseck said. “Lots of times, we make welfare checks on residents based on phone calls from their relatives who are concerned about them. We just let them know there’s help out there and that somebody cares.”
He said the people HPD has checked on or who have threatened suicide are made up of a “balance of males and females.”