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Suicide prevention takes courage, communication, official says

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The Veterans Affairs Department has named September National Suicide Prevention Month, but the Defense Department continues its year-round, comprehensive, multi-pronged approach to address the issue of suicide in the military, a Pentagon official said Aug. 21.

Army Lt. Gen. Michael S. Linnington, military deputy to the Under Secretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, said DOD will broaden suicide prevention programs and resources to increase awareness, prevention and understanding across the force.

Leadership focus
“Suicide prevention is about taking care of each other and that’s a responsibility leaders have to focus on year-round, daily, weekly, monthly … not just in the month of September,” Linnington said.

According to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report, the 2012 suicide rate (expressed as a number per 100,000 service members) for the active component was 22.7 and for the reserve components was 24.2. Across the services in 2012, 155 Soldiers committed suicide, as did a total of 57 Airmen, 59 Sailors and 47 Marines.

DOD will focus on total force fitness programs to build mental, physical and spiritual resilience in service members and their families with a focus on training and education for leaders and teams across the military to proactively recognize suicide signs and encourage communication.

Access to medical care
Additionally, DOD will continue to direct efforts to enhance medical care, the general said. The department, he said, “has spent a tremendous amount of leader attention and resources on improving access to care, the quality of care and the ability of service members to seek care in an anonymous nature if that’s what they choose to do.”

Linnington stressed the importance of leaders understanding the array of medical and resilience resources and their entry points.

Help for service members
Military Crisis Line and Military OneSource, he noted, are among the many resources that demonstrate the partnership between DOD and the VA, and give service members an anonymous ability to call-in or engage in online chats to access immediate help.

Newer peer-to-peer networks such as Vets4Warriors have also emerged as valuable resources, he said.

In many instances, however, the first people service members can go to for help can be members of the military family, the general said.

“Having walked in our shoes … I think it’s clear that service members are comfortable around those that serve with them and have shared experiences,” he said.

No stigma
There should be no stigma attached to seeking help, Linnington said.

“Getting help when you need it is not only a sign of strength, but it works,” he said. “Having the confidence to seek help when you need it is important.”

Linnington also championed positive, energetic, command climates at all levels.

Leadership support
“If leaders support the rehabilitation and resilience of their service members, then … that opens the door for service members to go out and seek help,” he said.

The general debunked the notion that seeking help could negatively impact a military career.

“One suicide is one too many and leaders throughout the military will do whatever it takes to prevent suicide,” he said.

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