Category: In The Media

Suicides in the Army declined sharply in 2013

FORT CARSON, Colo. — Suicides in the Army fell by 19 percent in 2013, dramatically reversing a rising trend plaguing the Army for almost 10 years.

There were 150 suicides among soldiers on active-duty status last year, down from a record 185 in 2012, according to Army data. The numbers include both confirmed and suspected suicides.

Lt. Gen. Howard Bromberg, chief of Army personnel, says he is cautiously optimistic in seeing success in Army programs to avert suicides by giving soldiers coping strategies for keeping a positive or optimistic outlook.

“I’m not declaring any kind of victory here,” Bromberg says. “It’s looking more promising.”

Within the ranks, it has meant that people such as Levertis Jackson, an Afghanistan War veteran whose despair led him several times to try to kill himself, have chosen life.

“It was like before, all my doors were closed, and I’m in a dark room,” says Jackson, 41, married and father of four. “(Now) I look for reasons why I need to continue to live.”

He left the Army last year after completing an experimental treatment plan at Fort Carson that helps soldiers cope with deadly, self-destructive impulses. Research results slated to be published in the Journal of the American Medical Association show a promising 60 percent reduction in suicide attempts by 30 soldiers who participated in the program.Efforts such as this one conducted by the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah and the University of Memphis are part of complex effort by the Army to reduce suicides. Larger initiatives include years of expanding behavioral health counseling.

“I think we’ve hit the turning point where people are really, really talking about behavioral health and the fact that it’s OK to have problems. It’s what you do with those problems that’s important,” Bromberg says.

The Army has spent tens of millions of dollars in a long-term study of suicide, teaming with the National Institutes of Health, and has developed a comprehensive program of instilling emotional resilience in soldiers.

Suicide researchers say the decline may be the inevitable result of the nation ending involvement in one war in Iraq and winding down its role in another in Afghanistan.

“I get the sense when I work with military people now, they just don’t seem as burnt out as they used to be,” says Craig Bryan, associate director of the National Center for Veterans Studies. “I mean there was a while there, they were just driven into the ground, even if they’d not been deployed, it was just keep going more, more, more, more.”

Bromberg agrees. “I think we’d be naive to think that this period of stress and strain doesn’t impact families and soldiers in some way,” he says.

Scientists may never know precisely what led to a steep rise in suicides that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta described as an epidemic.

Many agree it was fueled by the cumulative strain of fighting two wars at once, an unprecedented demand on an all-volunteer force in which family separations, multiple deployments and combat exposure became a way of life for years.

During periods of weeks or months, more troops were dying by their own hand than were killed in combat, according to military data.

The Army’s many suicides drove up totals for the entire military, leading to a record 351 such deaths among active-duty troops in 2012 — the deadliest suicide year on record for U.S. forces. The subsequent decline in suicides for the Army last year appeared to have the same effect, pushing down total Defense Department suicide numbers for 2013.

Though the Pentagon has not released its 2013 final figures, internal documents show 284 actual and presumed suicides among active-duty troops for the year through Dec. 15, a pace that would leave it significantly lower than 2012 suicides.Even as these deaths among active-duty soldiers declined last year, deaths among those on inactive status — members of the National Guard or reserve who were not called into active duty — remained at record levels.

The Army reported a record 151 suicides among these “citizens soldiers,” whose only contact with the Army are drills one weekend a month and two weeks of training each year. That’s an increase from 140 suicides in this group of soldiers in 2012.

The 150 suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2013 is the lowest number for that service branch since 2008. About one in five of those suicides last year were by soldiers who had never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Army figures.

By Gregg Zoroya
USA Today
Published: January 31, 2014

FOX54 Special Report: Help for Military with “Hidden Wounds”

FOX54 Special Report: Help for Military with “Hidden Wounds”

By Jake Wallace – bio | email

This year brought one of the worst months on record for military suicides.

In July the rate doubled the amount of suicided for civilians.

The main cause – post-traumatic stress disorder.

It’s an illness one woman is fighting in memory of her late brother.

“That’s the day my life changed forever,” says Anna Bigham.

That day is October 19, 2009.

The day Marine Lance Corporal Mills Bigham took his own life.

“he came back to find that his greatest war was the war at home.”

Mills was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. His sister, Anna, saw first hand how it affected her younger brother.

“I saw the insides and the outsides of the nightmares. My neighbors would call me saying ‘your brother is in the street, holding a machete in his boxers, pretending to play war.’ “

Mills’ struggle and eventual death encouraged Anna to help returning soldiers battle once again, this time with PTSD.

Bigham started ‘Hidden Wounds’, a non-profit organization that connects military members fighting PTSD with counselors.

Since January 2010, Hidden Wounds has conducted 1500 counseling hours and helped hundreds of veterans gain control of their PTSD.

Steven Diaz, a Marine – is one of those veterans.

Diaz was hit by an IED while in Iraq – and says it was the last thing he remembers from his tour.

“I had to have the story told to me because i just remember the sound of it.”

Diaz spent 20 months physically recovering from his injuries, but also had to battle the mental wounds that developed.

He says discussing his feelings with other wounded vets helped his recovery process.

Both Bigham and Diaz say that the largest battle they fight, especially with veterans and soldiers, is the idea that needing therapy is a sign of weakness.

“That stigma behind it is our greatest enemy. When we come back, we’re still trained to think like machines, but at the same time, we try to help them realize that you’re still human. Humans have issues and problems, and it’s ok,” says Diaz.

Dr Nancy Brown, Helping Vets With Hidden Scars

Nancy Brown holds a photo of her son, Will Brown, now serving overseas

Nancy Brown holds a photo of her son, Will Brown, now serving overseas

Helping vets with hidden scars

By Jeff Stensland, stenslan@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3686

Social work professor Nancy Brown vividly remembers driving to her house in Forest Acres after her son, Will, was deployed to Iraq in 2009. For months whenever she turned the final corner onto her street her heart would start racing and she would become filled with dread.

“I knew that if something were to happen to him there would be a strange car waiting in my driveway, and I always half-expected one would be there every time I turned that corner. So I didn’t want to turn that corner,” she said. “I called that the year of not sleeping.”

For Will, an Army reservist who came back safely from Iraq, home would never be quite the same either. Brown says her son intimated to her his nervousness about driving down streets on garbage pick-up day. The plastic recycling bins placed next to curbs reminded him of the roadside bombs he and his fellow soldiers would encounter in Iraq.

But Will would be alright. No longer on the front lines, he found a way to work through the stress of war and his degree in Russian and Arabic studies has landed him a job as a media consultant overseas. He also recently got married to a woman he met in Kyrgyzstan while studying Russian at the London School of Languages. Brown keeps a photo of him and his finance on her desk—a dashing young couple standing dockside on a bright summer day in an exotic port-of-call.

Others in the Brown’s lives would not be so lucky. Will’s best friend since eighth grade, Marine Lance Cpl. Mills Bigham, never could shake the hidden scars inflicted during his service in Iraq. Bigham’s shooting of a 12-year-old holding what turned out to be a shoddy grenade haunted him until he decided to end his own life in 2010. He was only 23.

Brown says she wishes she could have done more for Bigham while he was alive and admits that she struggled with bouts of guilt about his death.

“I would ask him how he was, and he would always say ‘fine,’ but he wasn’t,” she said. “War changes people.”

To help honor Bigham, Brown and a former colleague are creating a military social work program at USC that trains people in the community to identify when veterans are struggling with PTSD and equips with them with tools to help. USC also offers a certificate for master’s level social work students that covers issues of trauma, substance abuse and family relationships.

The community program now being developed is designed for social workers, health care professionals or anyone else who may have frequent interactions with veterans and their families. Along with Bigham’s family, Brown helps promote a non-profit called Hidden Wounds, which provides counseling to veterans and their families.

Suicide has become a major concern of the nation’s military. Among active duty troops, there was a record of 350 suicides in 2012, nearly twice as many as a decade before. And an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day, according to Department of Veterans Affairs.

Brown, who has spent more than three decades as a therapist and directs USC’s Drug and Addiction Studies Graduate Certificate Program, said the problem of PTSD may be especially difficult for reservists and National Guard member, who must quickly transition from combat situations back to office jobs in the civilian world.

“A lot of our vets are doing really well, and we have to acknowledge that,” she said. “But there are many others who the war has taken a big a big toll on and who are not having an easy time adapting back.”

Additional resources:

USC Counseling and Human Development Center at 803-777-5223

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.

Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255