NPR logo Commanders Have Ignored Major Mental Health Issues, Army Report Concludes


Commanders Have Ignored Major Mental Health Issues, Army Report Concludes

Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, briefs the media on the current state of the Army's Suicide Prevention efforts, in 2009. Paul J. Richards/AFP hide caption

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Paul J. Richards/AFP

A "hard-hitting and transparent report," which Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, hopes will "inform and educate, spark discussion, hone compliance on existing policy and provide an azimuth for the way ahead," concludes the Army has not paid close enough attention to mental health issues — which can lead to violence, drug abuse and suicide.

In his introduction, Chiarelli says that "now more than ever, our Soldiers need firm, fair and consistent leadership."

Although he acknowledges that commanders — like troops — have been stretched thin by repeated deployments during two wars, Chiarelli says the Army's leadership has to do better, taking "a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to address this risk."

According to NPR's Rachel Martin, "Defense officials say commanders on the ground don't have the training to make suicide prevention a priority — or to recognize the signs of a soldier on the brink."

In June alone, there were 21 potential suicides among active duty soldiers and 11 potential suicides among reserve component soldiers who were not on active duty.

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According to the report, those numbers are part of an alarming trend, which began in 2004.

"In Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 we had 160 active duty suicide deaths, with 239 across the total Army (including Reserve Component)," Chiarelli says. "Additionally, there were 146 active duty deaths related to high risk behavior including 74 drug overdoses."

This is tragic! Perhaps even more worrying is the fact we had 1,713 known attempted suicides in the same period.

Aside from alarmingly high suicide rates, the Army is also battling a high incidence of drug abuse. More and more soldiers have turned to prescription pharmaceuticals.

"Lasest accounts estimate that approximately 106,000 Soldiers are prescribed some form of pain, depression or anxiety medications," Chiarelli says. "The potential for absue is obvious."