CMSAF discusses resiliency with civic leaders

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Amber Russell
  • 11th Wing Public Affairs
Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Roy addressed a crowd of civic leaders and Department of Defense personnel on the necessity of promoting a total force culture of resiliency on Capitol Hill April 5.

During the presentation, the Air Force's top enlisted leader discussed many issues surrounding resiliency such as accidental deaths, combat-related deaths and suicide. The emphasis for the day's brief was on the latter.

"There is already a suicide prevention program in place that conducts training, analyzes data and provides access to care," said Roy. "I refuse to call resiliency a program. It is a culture, a mind-set. At its core, resiliency is the ability to endure a situation and grow from that. That is what we're building on."

Roy identified suicide as a major societal problem that transcends branches of service. With Air Force suicide incidents reaching an all time high in 2010, Roy deemed suicide a major problem in the Air Force.

"No one is exempt," said Roy. "This is a problem that touches Airmen Basics up to Brigadier Generals."

The statement Roy declared time and again was, "Human life matters." This is why Air Force leaders have placed such a high priority on total force suicide prevention.

Roy did not shy away from introducing the facts surrounding suicide in the Air Force or recognizing it as a growing problem in the service.

"We are already at an alarming 35 suicides this year, with 15 suicides in the month of January alone," said Roy.

The Department of Defense is serious about finding a solution to this problem, said Roy. Within the department, each suicide is analyzed on 200 different data points to indicate the factors associated with the loss of life. Commonalities are typically found in a few different locations.

Several leading indicators of suicide in the military are relationship problems, a history of mental health treatment and substance abuse, said Roy. Financial and legal issues were described as serious contributing factors as well.

The stress of providing for loved ones who may be affected by the recession or a prolonged period of worry over an impending non-judicial punishment or court-martial were issues Roy said could lead to depressive behaviors linked to suicide.

Reducing timelines of administrative and punitive actions is a step that the service's legal community has taken to reduce stressors that contribute to increased suicide rates, according to Roy.

The Limited Privilege Suicide Prevention program (LPSP), in use for more than a year now, was created to identify and treat service members who pose an increased risk of suicide because of impending disciplinary action under the Uniformed Code for Military Justice (UCMJ), and has proven to be successful, said Roy.

The LPSP is designed to encourage help-seeking by reducing barriers to care. Information that is protected under this program may not be used in existing or future UCMJ action, or when weighing the characterization of a service member who is being separated.

Resistance to life-skills training and seeking mental health can stem from fears of judgment or perception of losing one's security clearance.

"We have to tone down the message that says if you have a mental health condition you're going to automatically lose your security clearance," said Roy.

Another program that the Air Force slated to initiate in May is the Master Resiliency Trainer (MRT) program. Currently used by the Army, MRT is a comprehensive program that focuses on the five dimensions of strength: emotional, social, spiritual, family and physical.

With the ability to determine contributing factors of suicide and who is most at risk comes direct responsibility to every command.

"We have to know our people," said Roy, speaking to leaders. "I like to call it 'analog leadership.' Sure it's important to utilize modern forms of communication like texting and emails, but as leaders, we have to get from behind our computers and get in front of our Airmen."