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DoD reviews 900 suicide-prevention initiatives

Mar. 25, 2013 - 07:30PM   |  
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The Defense Department is reviewing more than 900 suicide prevention initiatives at the DoD and service levels to determine which ones support the overall strategy of reducing suicides and which can go in the dustbin.

The review by DoD’s Suicide Prevention Office, which follows a record year for suicides in the ranks — 349 in 2012 — began last fall, and a preliminary report should be out by October, Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the DoD office, told members of the House Armed Services Committee on March 21.

“We’re working very closely with the services. They are providing us data and input on their programs and what they look like so we can flesh out … what strategic objectives they serve and the costs,” she said.

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force have tailored their own programs to reverse the decadelong trend of rising military suicide rates.

In 2001, the rate was 10.3 suicides per 100,000 troops; by 2009, that had risen to 18.3. Garrick said the rate remained fairly level in 2010 and 2011 but is expected to increase in 2012 once all the data is reviewed.

To fight the problem, the services have focused on resilience training, equipping soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines with strategies to cope with stress.

Resilience training focuses on psychological fortitude, positive thinking and stress reduction strategies.

The Army rolled out its Ready and Resilient Campaign online this month to reinforce concepts taught in Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, a resiliency program designed to reinforce physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being.

Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, the Army’s personnel chief, said a 24-month review of the training in an infantry division has shown promise in increasing suicide interventions by soldiers.

“It’s premature, but we’re seeing improvement. The initial indication is there is a reduction of gestures and attempts,” he said. “We’re going to do this across the Army. Resilience makes a difference.”

Bromberg said the Army’s anti-stigma efforts — another major Stigma Reduction Campaign Plan is in development — also appears to be reaping benefits.

According to his testimony, the percentage of officers who believe seeking help will hurt their career has dropped to 54 percent from 81 percent in 1999, and for enlisted troops, to 52 percent from 69 percent.

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