Waivers make no difference, suicide study says

By Don Kramer/Northwest GuardianNovember 22, 2011

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Preliminary data from the Army studies on resilience say Soldiers who need waivers to enlist are no more likely to commit suicide than those who don't, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli last week during an interview with the Northwest Guardian.

Though most of the information from research in the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers, known by its acronym STARRS, are still under analysis, initial results appear to put an end to speculation that suicides in the Army spiked during periods when more enlistment waivers were granted. STARRS is a five-year study that will continue through 2014.

The amount of time from enlistment to first deployment, however, does appear to be significant.

"We need more data, but we're also seeing a higher rate of suicide among Soldiers who come into the Army and find themselves downrange within one year of joining the Army," Chiarelli said, "a kid who comes in, goes to basic, AIT and reports to a unit and before his anniversary, his 365 days in the Army, finds himself downrange. We're seeing a higher incidence of suicide with that group."

The vice chief said the Army is studying the issue and looking at ways to "push (deployment dates) as far to the right as we can when they come on active-duty service."

Chiarelli stressed that even in uncertain fiscal times, the Army is continuing its commitment to addressing the mental health issues raised by STARRS and other studies, focusing on what he calls the "invisible wounds of war," derived from post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Chiarelli said he hopes someday our medical community arrives at a mental health formula predictive of personal crisis in the same way that cholesterol has become a marker for heart disease.

"We're not saying that this algorithm we're going to get out of STARRS is going to allow us to say 'Hey, Chiarelli's going to attempt suicide at age 26,' but what we think what we are going to get out of it is an algorithm that basically says you have all these indicators, this is what you're going to do about it. And you're at a higher risk if you don't do something; you're developing a behavioral health issue at some time in your life."

Leaders at Joint Base Lewis-McChord received high marks from Chiarelli for supporting what needs to be not only an Armywide effort, but one that spans services and even the civilian population. They are doing what Chiarelli urges during most of his visits to units throughout the Army -- supporting STARRS and breaking through stigmas to stay attentive to their Soldiers' needs.

"You've got commanders involved. They're talking about this. They're trying to learn," the VCSA said about JBLM leaders. "They're in tune with what's happening with their Soldiers. As horrible as the stories of suicide are, what I'm seeing more and more is suicides that are being avoided because commanders are doing what they're supposed to be doing, they're getting people the help that they need; they're realizing when a Soldier goes from low risk to a higher level of risk and they're taking action to ensure that Soldier gets the help they need."

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