USMC policy: Recruits threatening suicide should 'immediately' be evaluated

Raheel Siddiqui, 20, died at the Marine Corps recruit depot at Parris Island, S.C., while in initial training.


By WADE LIVINGSTON | The Island Packet (Tribune News Service) | Published: September 15, 2016

Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island’s Recruit Training Order — the document that governs training — states that recruits who attempt to harm themselves or express suicidal thoughts should receive an immediate “evaluation and safety screening.”

In Raheel Siddiqui’s case, it appears that didn’t happen.

Siddiqui told his drill instructors on March 13 he would kill himself but didn’t see a psychologist until the next day, according to a Marine Corps official who spoke on background and shared heavily redacted portions of the recruit’s death investigation with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette.

And before seeing the psychologist, Siddiqui was taken to meet with the Recruit Liaison Section, a unit tasked with, among other things, encouraging recruits who experience difficulties to resume training — a unit whose name does not appear in the Recruit Training Order’s section governing response to suicide, according to depot spokesperson Capt. Greg Carroll.

During that two-day span, Siddiqui recanted multiple times his threat of suicide, according to the Corps official.

He told the liaison service on March 14 he never meant it and regretted saying it.

And later that day, a psychologist classified him as a low risk for self harm and recommended he be eased back into training.

Siddiqui died March 18 after jumping from the third floor of his barracks. Five days earlier, when asked how he would kill himself, he said he would jump out the squad bay window, according to the Corps official.

In the wake of his death, which the Corps has ruled a suicide, three command investigations of the depot found “anomalies and inconsistencies in the policies and procedures responding to suicidal ideations or statements.”

Those investigations also discovered a culture of hazing.

As details continue to emerge, here’s what Parris Island’s Recruit Training Order says about hazing and suicide prevention.

“Any recruit that makes a self-harm attempt or verbalizes any thoughts about self harm will immediately be taken to the Mental Health Unit” — at the depot — “during working hours or the Beaufort Memorial Hospital emergency room during non-working hours for an immediate evaluation and safety screening,” according to the training order, read by Carroll during a phone call Thursday.

Carroll said an operational planning team is reviewing the training order, so this section and others could be subject to change.

Normal working hours of the on-base mental health unit are from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday, and from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, according to Lisa Lill, spokesperson for Naval Hospital Beaufort.

On March 13 — a Sunday — sometime before 7:20 a.m., Siddiqui said he wanted to kill himself, according to the Corps official who spoke on background.

At 7:20 a.m., a call was made to “EMS” to request Siddiqui be transported to Beaufort Memorial Hospital. But that request was denied 20 minutes later, the official said, based on a consultation with EMS personnel and because Siddiqui had not attempted to harm himself.

He was told to take off his belt and remove his shoelaces — in accordance with the training order — and the company office was notified.

Siddiqui was assigned a “full-time shadow watch” recruit — who would stay with him at all times — and was moved to a neighboring platoon’s squad bay. He later recanted his suicidal statement, and the decision was made to keep him in the adjacent squad bay and take him to the mental health unit the next morning.

The next morning, Siddiqui first met with the Recruit Liaison Section, according to the Corps official.

At Parris Island, someone in a leadership role viewed the liaison sector as a “tool” to be used before a mental health evaluation, according to the Corps official, to ensure “recruits who express suicidal ideations are in the right state of mind and understand the consequences” of their actions.

Furthermore, this person believed most recruits who expressed suicidal thoughts did so to get out of training.

During the visit with the liaison, Siddiqui again recanted his suicidal statement.

Drill instructors, because of their constant contact with recruits in their charge, play a critical role in identifying trainees who need mental health care.

“DIs are trained to look for warning signs of self-harm,” Carroll said, “such as statements about suicide or self-harm thoughts.”

Chapter 4, “Suicide/Self-Harm Prevention,” in the Recruit Training Order is designed to help personnel identify recruits who need counseling, ensure they get it, get them back into training or, if necessary, begin processing them out of the Corps.

Battalion commanders — such as now-relieved 3rd Recruit Training Battalion’s Lt. Col. Joshua Kissoon — are responsible for ensuring the drill instructors and series commanders in their charge are aware of self-harm warning signs, treat suicide threats and suicidal thoughts with urgency, and ensure recruits who have reported suicidal threats or thoughts have met with mental health professionals.

Suicide prevention is also a topic covered in recruit training, Carroll said, during “core values guide” discussions — low-stress conversations that often happen in the squad bay.

“There is no place for hazing in the Marine Corps, to include during recruit training,” Carroll said, reading from the Recruit Training Order.

“Hazing has never been in keeping with the good order and discipline demanded of Marines. Any Marine found guilty of hazing through appropriate legal proceedings will be held accountable for their actions.”

In November, an investigation began into the conduct of 15 Parris Island drill instructors accused of recruit abuse and hazing.

In one of those instances a Muslim recruit was ordered into a commercial clothes dryer and interrogated about his religion and loyalties.

The same instructor in that instance would later be improperly assigned to Siddiqui’s platoon, according to the Corps official close to the investigation. That drill instructor would allegedly “incentive train” Siddiqui as the recruit attempted to go to sickbay, then slap him between one to three times in the face after he fell to the floor.

Siddiqui, a 20-year-old Muslim Pakistani-American from Taylor, Mich., then jumped up, ran out of the squad bay and jumped to his death.

At the beginning of recruit training, senior drill instructors give a uniform speech to their new charges, according to Carroll.

They introduce themselves to the recruits and set the tone of training.

“We will treat you as we do our fellow Marines, with firmness, fairness, dignity and compassion,” reads one line of the speech.

“Physical or verbal abuse by any Marine or recruit will not be tolerated,” reads another. “If anyone should abuse or mistreat you, I expect you to report such incidents immediately to me or one of (the) drill instructors.”

©2016 The Island Packet (Hilton Head, S.C.)
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