The fight against suicide on, off post
June 14, 2012
FORT SILL, Okla.-- It seems the military has an allusive enemy, one that is taking more lives than war. The Pentagon released statistics showing suicide as the No. 1 threat to service members. The war against it was been waged years ago with more prevention programs, but the statistics show an 18 percent increase from the same period last year.
So far there have been 154 suicides for active-duty service members in the first 155 days of the year; almost double the number of service members killed in Afghanistan.
Robert Dodrill, Fort Sill Suicide Prevention Program manager, tried to make sense of the collective tragedy but the numbers just don't add up. Suicides among active-duty Soldiers are down from last year's 114 to 80 as of June 6, but up 125 from 114 in the same time periods if National Guard and Reserve Soldiers are included.
Broken down even further, of the 80 active-duty Soldiers who committed suicide, 15 had never deployed; eight happened during deployment, nine had been redeployed 1-120 days; 13 had been redeployed 121-365 days; 28 had been redeployed 366 days or more. Case managers are looking for causes of seven of them.
Fort Sill is not impermeable, but Dodrill said the best strategy is to attack early.
"If we take care of the life stressors I think that will help out as far as the suicides," said Dodrill.
Dodrill said there are triggers that can lead to a Soldier taking their life. The first being relationship problems, whether it's marital, or a relationship problem meaning a Soldier is having trouble within their unit. The second is financial stress, followed by Uniform Code of Military Justice, or trouble with the law, and finally drugs and alcohol abuse.
"It's really not the deployment, it's everything that revolves around the deployment. It's the same thing with a person going to Korea; if you don't have your finances in order, if your marriage [isn't stable] before you even go to Korea, you're going to deal with it while you're in Korea. You're there. You can't come back so by the time you come back home a year later it's all down hill from there."
Dodrill said this time of year is actually a huge stressor to Soldiers because it is the largest transition period for the Army. As Soldiers PCS, he said to be mindful of them coming onto the installation and to make them feel as welcome as possible while they settle onto Fort Sill.
"Find out if there's anything they need as far as services, like for financial problems, point them toward the right direction. It's not just a big change for the service members, but for the family also. We're concerned about all of them."
The Soldiers do receive briefings during in-processing, but a little battle buddy guidance goes a long way to making them feel more welcome.
Outside Fort Sill's gates, a nonprofit organization called Stop Soldier Suicide is taking a community approach to combating the problem.
"Suicide is very tricky. The Army is still trying to figure it out," said Capt. Chris Grates, Stop Soldier Suicide Lawton Chapter president.
They are not only out to help Fort Sill's Soldiers, but also those who have already served.
"I've been overseas three times. In my second deployment I was injured and I had a buddy who pretty much saved my life. You know the bond you develop when something like that happens you can't really describe it. Then these guys come back and they separate from the military and go out in the civilian world and they're not around anybody who has had similar experience to them that they can actually relate to. So, a sense of hopelessness develops and that just compounds," said Grates.
SSS discovers a Soldier who may need help and then uses organizations in Lawton and the surrounding areas to solve what may be causing them to think about taking their life.
"It might just be someone is overwhelmed with debt and maybe our role could be to pay their car payment for a month just to kind of alleviate that pressure just a little bit and bring them back from the edge. Our role is adapting. We're still finding out exactly what it is. Right now we fill gaps that are missing in services. We're also a source outside the chain of command. I know I'm in the Army. I do this not as Captain Grates, I'm just a civilian that's helping out," said Grates.
SSS hosted its first event June 11 in Lawton with a dinner or reveille.
"Reveille is kind of a play on words. Reveille is a French word that stands for awakening, so it's kind of like a wake up call," said Grates.
Grates went on to say less than 1 percent of the nation serves in the military, but the sobering fact is they account for 20 percent of suicides.
"We've partnered with Give-an-Hour, they provide pro bono therapy outside the chain of command to anybody who just needs to talk to somebody. All you have to do is click on the link and type in your zip code, and it'll tell you what therapist in your area are providing therapy," said Grates.
Soldiers are taught to look for the signs and follow the ACE method of Ask, Care, Escort. Dodrill said if a Soldier finds someone who is attempting suicide, get the chain of command involved, and get them the help they need by either taking them to the emergency room or call for help and stay with them until an ambulance arrives.
If anyone you know exhibits these signs, get help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK.