Grafenwoehr leaders stress it's OK to seek help
November 24, 2009
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany - U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr leaders met Nov. 13 to to tackle a spike in suicides.
At the meeting, Garrison Commander Col. Chris Sorenson, along with chaplains, commanders of the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and 172nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and medical and behavioral health personnel focused on ways to erase the stigma associated with seeking mental help, and to identify and remove potential barriers to obtaining treatment.
Personnel have two options for receiving confidential mental help over the phone after duty hours. The ability to use the 24-hour phone service helps combat access to services Soldiers and community members face overseas compared to stateside military installations. It also helps mitigate challenges faced when individuals who seek medical attention locally must check themselves in at the nearest German hospital where English fluency can vary among hospital staff.
One outlet at Grafenwoehr is the on-duty chaplain. Chaplains offer immediate assistance for troubling situations, 24 hours a day. The on-duty chaplain can be reached at 01622-96-0838 or by calling the military police station (DSN 114 or CIV 09662-83-114), which will arrange for the chaplain to return the call.
According to Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Paul Lasley, Rose Barracks community chaplain here, the chaplain hot line is available to anyone experiencing a crisis. However, Soldiers should seek counseling if the problem persists.
"Commanders have to make sure small unit leaders, down to the platoon and squad level, give Soldiers time for behavioral health appointments," Lasley said. "Behavioral health, especially issues dealing with suicide ideation and post-traumatic stress disorder are health issues, and like medical appointments, Soldiers need to be given time during the day to attend sessions with counselors and chaplains."
Another resource is the Military OneSource hot line. The hot line is staffed with counselors 24 hours a day and is completely anonymous. However, if follow-up counseling is desired, the caller must provide his or her name in order to receive a referral for one-on-one counseling services.
If follow-up in-person counseling is desired, Military OneSource will set up up to 12 sessions with a provider, either a military or civilian behavioral health counselor. Additional sessions will need to be referred through Tricare.
Callers can reach Military OneSource by dialing 1(800) 342-9647 or refer to the drop down menu at www.militaryonesource.com on how to place a toll-free call from Germany.
Erasing the stigma
The stigma associated with seeking behavioral health counseling is an issue for military personnel and civilians. In order to better educate leaders on the importance of mental health, several programs are currently being developed and enhanced, such as a behavioral health component to the Warrior Leader Course. This segment will address stigma and behavioral health issues, which will strive to make Noncommissioned Officers more aware of problems their Soldiers might experience and encourage them to speak with someone who can help.
Another program is ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training. The military currently uses ASIST to educate personnel as a form of suicide prevention first aid. This two-day seminar teaches participants to identify someone who might be contemplating suicide, and act as a first responder for that person with role play, much the same way a Combat Lifesaver course is conducted. USAG Grafenwoehr is working to expand ASIST training.
Another resource is ACE (ask, care and escort). All Soldiers, regardless of rank, will be exposed to ACE, which Lasley called the Army's suicide prevention strategy. With ACE, the "ask" portion involves determining if a buddy is having suicidal thoughts. "Care" means staying with the person so he doesn't harm himself, and then "escorting" him to proper resources, such as a behavioral health professional or chaplain.
All Soldiers conducting in-processing will be exposed to a half hour presentation about suicide prevention in Grafenwoehr (Main Post) and Rose Barracks. The presentation covers ACE, myths about stigma, and a short video of Capt. Emily Stehr, a physical therapist with the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, who contemplated suicide and is working to overcome her personal struggles from a deployment.
"Army culture is in the process of change, and leaders in Grafenwoehr want to support Soliders' injuries or needs, they want to make sure Soldiers are not harassed any time they need help," Lasley said.
Part of suicide prevention is not just targeting those contemplating suicide, but addressing risks that are common factors such as isolation and relationships, according to Chaplain (Maj.) Stan Copeland, the Military Family Life Chaplain for Rose Barracks. Single and married Solider retreats and single Soldier day trip excursions, which are often free, are two ways to help combat these risks.
"Chaplain retreats prevent isolation," Copeland said. "Suicides typically involve relationship catastrophes. (We'll do) whatever we can do to help strengthen relationships and help single Soldiers choose healthy relationships."
Copeland has found that these programs help bridge the gaps isolation creates, and bring people together, to hopefully give life some meaning "among people where spirituality is important, life is too precious to commit suicide."