Harkin to Help Prevent Suicides Among Active Duty Troops

JANUARY 25TH, 2008 | Harkin for Senate

Last November, Senator Harkin wrote and helped pass into law the Josh Omvig Suicide Prevention Act that directed the Department of Veterans Affairs to integrate mental health services into veterans’ primary care, and step up counseling and other mental health services for returning war veterans and their families.

With new data showing that suicide among active duty troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is on the rise, Senator Harkin is moving quickly to introduce legislation next week to prevent suicide among the brave men and women who are actively serving our country.

Harkin’s proposed “Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Act” will do the following:

  • Conduct a national mental health campaign to reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, encourage people to seek help when needed, and increase awareness that mental health is essential to overall health and that treatments can promote recovery from mental illness.

  • Involve military leadership in outreach efforts by incorporating suicide prevention training in officer and senior enlisted training courses.

  • Implement annual suicide prevention training of all active duty, Reserve, and National Guard members.

  • Strengthen basic lifesaver training and training for military medics and medical personnel to incorporate recognition of risk factors for suicide, identification of signs and symptoms of mental health issues, and protocols for responding to crisis situations involving soldiers who may be at high risk for suicide.

  • Utilize Critical Incident Stress Management teams within units to prevent and respond to traumatic events. Such teams will consist of key personnel such as medical staff, chaplains, family support staff, and peers.

  • Provide post-deployment follow-up and assistance for family members and peers of members of the Armed Services on mental health problems, substance use, and financial and relationship difficulties, including information on resources to address these issues.

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On February 3rd, 2008 at 04:50 PM, Frank Hood wrote:

First, I wish to thank Sen. Harkin and his colleagues for their help in working to reduce suicides among military personnel. A young soldier once said to me, “I just wanted it to end, what’s the point in asking for help anyway, it will just make everything worse!” There is more than just a stigma attached to those seeking mental health services. A significant barrier preventing suicidal young soldiers from seeking or receiving mental health intervention resides in their fear of being accused of malingering, or labeled “a malinger”. Faking illness to avoid work “malingering” is a Courts Martial offense punishable by incarceration and/or a bad discharge. Other punitive actions include loss of rank, fines, and extra duty. Even if not formally charged, the soldier faces emotional abuse: humiliated and ostracized by their “unit’s”, i.e., Company, Battery, Platoon, Squadron, leaders and coworkers. This exacerbates their already tenuous mental health by making the soldiers world even more of a living hell and increasing that soldiers desire to escape and end their suffering by AWOL, substance/alcohol abuse, and suicide. Many soldiers who successfully seek and receive inpatient mental health assistance are still confronted with continued harassment upon their return to duty following discharge from the hospital. The unit environment is often so caustic that our psychiatrists, more often than not, refuse to discharge soldiers from the psychiatric ward until they are administratively discharged from the army. Young soldiers often spend 3-4 weeks on a locked psychiatric ward. I don’t envision a miraculous change of army mentality or attitude toward mental illness. I do believe that removing the ability of commanders to charge are insinuate suicidal soldiers with malingering would have an immediate impact in reducing suicide rates. I am an Air Force retiree now serving the U.S. Army (civilian) as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. I practice psychotherapy on the inpatient psychiatric ward at William Beaumont Army Medical Center (WBAMC). WBAMC services Ft. Bliss and Biggs Army Airfield, TX; Ft. Huachuca, AZ; White Sands Missile Range and Holloman AFB, NM; and veterans in the greater El Paso, TX area. I have worked at WBAMC since 1999. The vast majority of my patients are active duty soldiers and airman admitted for suicide ideations, gestures, and attempts. I am responsible for the submission of army suicide event reports (ASER) of all suicidal soldiers from Ft. Bliss and Biggs AAF.

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