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Military suicides on the rise: What can be done to help?

Here’s a sad fact, last year more service members committed suicide than died on the battlefield. Despite extensive support and counseling programs, as many as 349 service members committed suicide last year, which would be the highest number since the Department of Defense began keeping detailed statistics in 2001.

The President and the Defense Secretary have called the suicides a national tragedy. So what can be done?

Brigadier General Tammy Smith is the director of the Army Reserve’s Human Capital Core Enterprise. I asked Brigadier General Smith why suicides are on the rise.

To help combat the rise in suicides the Army and Army Reserves have pushed some new programs starting at basic training.

Boosting Resiliency: “When we look at the solider as a total person one of the aspects that research shows is that individuals that have more resiliency are better equipped to deal with the struggles of war. So what the military is doing is applying that research to the solider life-cycle. That starts at boot camp. If we can teach life-skills from the beginning and improve their portfolio, we can build a more resilient force,” said Brigadier General Smith.

Suicide Stand-down: The training was held at Army posts around the world. The stand-down was meant to help soldiers, Army civilians and family members recognize signs of suicidal behavior and inform them about intervention strategies and how to refer individuals for care.

Fort Family: provides a single gateway to responsive Family Crisis Assistance, available 24/7, 365 days a year. It provides a unit and community based solution to connect people to people. By pinpointing Families-in-need and local community resources, the AR can quickly connect the Soldier Family and resources thus providing installation-commensurate services in the geographic location of the crisis. Fort Family has established a community based capacity by engaging our Nation’s “Sea of Goodwill” to support Soldiers and Families closest to where they live.

Top Down Support: “It is Jeffrey Talley’s (Chief of Army Reserve, Commanding General USARC) number one priority,” said Brigadier General Smith. Leaders in the Army and other branches of the military have recorded video messages urging soliders to seek out help. Here is one example:

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Janina Rey Echols Harrison

My father is a WWII vet and he gets so angry that we continually send our children into wars. He volunteered. So many of those on the front signed up as reserve never expecting to be sent overseas. Then they are sent on multiple tours. I can fully see why suicide is so high. Just like Vietnam, it is hard to tell who the enemy really is. It has to erode the humanity and trust we have in others. A friend of my daughter and her husband just returned from Afganistan. He had registered for school, got a job and was just getting his life back and was called back. My brother in law was visiting (he had been in the Navy) and the young man told him a lot about what he had already been through. Soon after he was called back it was cancelled. He was lucky. I guess he could still be called up again.