By Col. Jon DahmsApril 24, 2009
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, April 24, 2009) -- The Army's battle to reduce suicide in its ranks took on a new urgency last week as Army leaders launched the "Health Promotion, Risk Reduction and Suicide Prevention Campaign Plan."
"There's no single answer to this problem," said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter. W. Chiarelli. "This is a holistic problem, with holistic solutions and that's how we're going to approach it with this campaign plan."
The campaign plan will be implemented by the Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force, established March 6. In addition, the Army stood up a Suicide Prevention Council of senior leaders from across the Army headquarters, to ensure rapid progress in improving Army health promotion and risk reduction efforts.
"We've already identified about 250 specific tasks we can tackle that are in some way connected to improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of our Soldiers, families and Army civilian employees," said Brig. Gen. Colleen McGuire, director, Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. "The mission of both the task force and the council is to rapidly complete these tasks. It's urgent that we take a comprehensive look at the many Army programs we have in these areas and ensure they're all coordinated, effective and up to date, and that Soldiers, family members, civilians and the Army community at large are aware of them."
The Suicide Prevention Task Force is chartered to review Army doctrine, policies, training programs and available resources to achieve a rapid and sustained improvement in the resiliency, life-coping skills and overall fitness of the Army community, said McGuire. Each area is also closely related to reducing the incidence of Army suicide.
A key component of the campaign plan includes getting immediate guidance out to Army installation, garrison and military treatment facility commanders so the improvements identified by the task force can be immediately implemented across the Army.
"It's important to understand that the Suicide Prevention Task Force is an interim organization, focused on achieving specific goals that we strongly believe will result in a reduction in the suicide rate within the Army," said McGuire. "Once the task force has accomplished these goals, we'll turn the overall health promotion, risk reduction and suicide prevention effort over to Army leadership, Army staff and major commands, who will then ensure these advances are permanent."
The campaign plan is the latest in a series of initiatives by Chiarelli since Secretary of the Army Pete Geren and Chief of Staff of the Army George W. Casey Jr. asked him to lead the integration of suicide prevention efforts in January.
The general expanded the suicide report format to include additional data fields that can be used in the analysis and identification of trends and factors. Additionally, Chiarelli has commanders brief him on every confirmed suicide case during 2009 in a series of monthly video-teleconferences.
The intent behind the detailed briefings is to facilitate the sharing of information so commanders can learn from suicides across the Army, not just those that occur on their installation.
The briefings also help highlight systemic problems such as confusion about deployment policies concerning medications or changes required in post-deployment screening tools.