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3 possible suicides at Fort Bliss last weekend

Apr. 24, 2014 - 03:04PM   |  
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Fort Bliss, Texas, is reeling from three deaths on Easter weekend that, while still under investigation, are thought to be suicides.

A source told Military Times that two enlisted soldiers and a captain have died by suicide since April 17, a blow to a post that has built a new center for mental health and suicide prevention and where President Obama in 2012 announced an executive order expanding military and veterans mental health services.

Exactly how many suicides the Army has had this year is unknown; the service, which once published the data monthly, stopped issuing them in December. The service also has not released its total figures for 2013, although preliminary figures given to Military Times in February showed 150 suicides among Army active-duty and activated Reserve or National Guard troops.

That figures was down 19 percent from 2012.

Service officials said earlier this year they are working with the Defense Department to standardize reporting measures and calculate rates — a per capita measure that is vital to understanding the scope of the issue.

The services said the Pentagon also will take the lead on releasing the numbers for all the services, likely to be done quarterly.

Despite intensive efforts to encourage troops to seek help for mental health conditions and work, relationship and financial stress, the services are still struggling to prevent troops from ending their lives.

According to Air Force figures, 55 airmen died by suicide last year, a rate of 14 per 100,000 personnel. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh told a Senate panel in April that 32 airmen have died by suicide so far in 2014, a rate of more than 18 per 100,000 personnel.

“The problem we’ve got with this terrible illness that results in this kind of behavior is it can spike on you unexpectedly,” Welsh told senators. “We are in the middle of a spike like that right now.”

Welsh said he planned to send a letter to all commanders emphasizing the importance of the service’s suicide prevention and resiliency programs.

The Navy and Marine Corps continue to publicly release their figures each month. This year, the Corps has had 11 active-duty and mobilized reservists die by suicide, while the Navy has had 16. Last year, 45 Marines and 46 sailors on active duty committed suicide.

The Pentagon compiles a comprehensive annual review of active-duty suicides and attempts called the DoD Suicide Event Report. However, the most recent report documents suicides in 2011, and was not issued until December 2012.

The Pentagon has not yet published the 2012 DoD Suicide Event Report. Officials did not immediately provide a reason for the delay.

The report details the circumstances under which troops choose to end their lives — and the reasons remain varied and complex. The 2011 edition noted that more than half the troops who died by suicide had sought mental health treatment, either inpatient or outpatient care; more than half did not have a known mental health diagnosis; and three-quarters were sober and drug-free at the time of their deaths.

The report also has revealed that more than half had no history of deployment to a combat zone or direct participation in history.

Early results from a massive Army study on mental health and resilience published in the JAMA Psychiatry published in March, however, indicated that deployment factors may correlate to increased suicides and attempts.

That study also found that one in one in five soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting.

The Fort Bliss deaths were confirmed by spokesman Lt. Col. Lee Peters, who declined to discuss the cases because they are under investigation.

Those who need help, or family and friends of those in a mental health crisis can connect with trained counselors via the toll-free Military Crisis Line, 800-273-8255.

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