June was the worst month on record for Army suicides
ARLINGTON, Va. -- More soldiers killed themselves last month than any other month on record.
There were 21 active-duty and 11 reserve soldier suicides in June, including seven in Iraq or Afghanistan, the Army reported on Thursday.
The news came just weeks after Gen. Peter Chiarelli told Congress that the Army was encouraged by a 30 percent drop in suicides among active-duty soldiers this year compared to last year at this time.
Although he said there was more to do, he thought the decrease showed the Army's prevention efforts were working. But this latest data reflects more of the same.
Through the first six months of 2009, 88 active-duty soldiers committed suicide. For this year, that number is 80. The trend is most troubling among reserve component soldiers; those deaths jumped from 42 to 65.
The June numbers for active duty suicides brought the Army back to January 2009, which was the first of two alarming months that sent the Army scrambling to create the Suicide Prevention Task Force and then to hold a service-wide stand down. Col. Chris Philbrick, director of the task force, said there were no plans for another.
“It’s difficult,” he said, adding that he didn’t know how else to describe the frustration. The numbers are especially disappointing because “we believe the programs, policies and procedures” are “having a positive impact across the entire force.”
Last month’s numbers, though alarming, don’t lead to any easy conclusions.
“There were no trends to any one unit, camp, post or station” or job speciality, Philbrick said. The Army can only point to the continued stress on the force through nine years of war.
In the face of five years of rapidly increasing suicides, the Army has tried to eliminate stigma and encourage soldiers to seek help. On Thursday the service released a new suicide prevention video -- one they hope goes over better than their first attempt.
The task force rushed together a training video to go with last year’s stand down. “I’d love to tell you it was a hit, but it wasn’t,” Philbrick said.
Soldiers were blunt with their criticism. For starters, some of the “soldiers” were really actors, and it didn’t go unnoticed. Philbrick watched the video in a dining facility with about 300 soldiers, and most “laughed their way through it,” he said. Overall, with its typical Pentagonese tone, “it just didn’t resonate.”
The new 18-minute video, “Shoulder to Shoulder: I Will Never Quit,” features testimonials from soldiers -- all in the Army this time -- who struggled with thoughts of suicide or helped someone who did. One particularly powerful story involves a soldier who put his rifle to his chin and pulled the trigger. It didn’t go off because a fellow concerned soldier had taken the firing pin out of the gun.
“This is a far better video in terms of initial impact,” Philbrick said.
Watch the video: http://www.armyg1.army.mil/hr/suicide/default.asp