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How The U.S. Military Handles Suicidal Soldiers

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How The U.S. Military Handles Suicidal Soldiers

The Impact of War

How The U.S. Military Handles Suicidal Soldiers

How The U.S. Military Handles Suicidal Soldiers

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Guests

Jamie Tarabay, correspondent, NPR
Col. Chris Philbrick, director of the U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force

In 2010, almost as many U.S. troops around the world have committed suicide as have been killed fighting in Afghanistan. Through May of 2010, 163 men and women in the Army killed themselves. That rate is on pace to more than double the total for all of 2008.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Two years ago, while serving in Iraq, Army Specialist Joseph Sanders realized his marriage was over. Devastated, he aimed his rifle at himself and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened.

It turned out that his friend, Specialist Albert Godding, had removed the firing pin after Sanders told him that he was thinking about killing himself.

In this case, a soldier applied the lessons he learned in suicide prevention training. Sadly, that does not happen anywhere near often enough. This year, the number of American troops who killed themselves is almost as high as the number killed on the battlefield. Why? And what's being done to prevent it?

Later in the program, the Opinion Page features two columnists with very different views on the parents who sent a 16-year-old around the world alone in a sailboat. But first, if you've been touched by military suicide, if this is a story about someone in your family, a friend, someone in your unit, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. And you can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

You may have heard a report on military suicide by NPR correspondent Jamie Tarabay, who joins us here in Studio 3A. Jamie, thanks very much for coming in.

JAMIE TARABAY: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And obviously one is too many, but when did the Army begin to see this as a crisis?

TARABAY: I think the turning point probably came around 2006, once the civilian rate, the most sort of comparable civilian rate, according to military demographics, was around 20, and it was actually around 15.3, according to some of the numbers that the Army's been tracking. And then once 2006, that rate started going up and up and up. In 2008, it actually exceeded the civilian rate.

CONAN: So the rate in the Army was worse than the civilian rate.

TARABAY: Right, and we have also, you know, the colonel in here and he will be able to tell you more about how difficult it is to narrow it down when you're talking about an overly young, male population and trying to get those demographics.

CONAN: So that's the what. The question then is who. Who are, for the most part, these people who are unfortunately killing themselves?

TARABAY: Right, and that's really the issue that's the heart of the Suicide Prevention Task Force that the Army set up at the end of 2008, early 2009, to start to tackle this problem.

Some of the things that it's been able to I guess discover, most recently a statistic that obviously warrants further investigation, is that 79 percent of these suicides happen within the first three years of service. So...

CONAN: So these are young members of the Army. And is this primarily a battlefield problem, or is this a barracks problem?

TARABAY: Not necessarily. According to the statistics that we've seen, and according to many of the Army investigations, a lot of these young soldiers have never been deployed.

They've never been out of the country. A lot of them are what they call soldiers in transition. So they've gone from basic training to their new unit, and there has been some issues that have not allowed them to adapt as well as they might, and that's usually, a lot of them are found to be, you know, transitioning from one point to another, and that's usually where the suicide happens.

But there's also it's not just at that junior level. You've got officers, soldiers who have served, come back, and they could be transitioning to civilian life. They could be transitioning to a new post.

You know, these are all turbulent times for them, and it sometimes becomes too much.

CONAN: And that leads to the question directly, and you've begun to address it already, why?

TARABAY: Well, it's, you know, there's the stressors involved of moving. There is statistics out there that back alcohol use, the risk of medication. And, you know, then you also have to look in further, and it's things like medical mental health issues, medical history, discipline issues, relationship issues. There are a thousand things that are the backstory to each suicide that you don't know about until you are able to investigate it, and that's something that really the Army has begun focusing on.

CONAN: So no simple answer. It's not simply the strain of deployment. It's not simply the strain of battle.

TARABAY: There is no one theory. There is no one simple, straight answer. There is no one solution.

CONAN: Joining us also here in Studio 3A is Colonel Chris Philbrick, the director of the U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. And Colonel Philbrick, it's very good of you to be with us today.

Colonel CHRIS PHILBRICK (Director, U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force): Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And I wanted you to expand, again, as you've looked into the problem, this question of why and who.

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, I wish I could tell you there was a simple answer, but unfortunately, to our investigative process that we've gone through to this point, we have found no one single category, one single demographic, one single cause behind this very tragic incident.

First of all, let me state that the loss of any soldier is a loss to the Army family. It's a loss to their family and friends. It is a significant issue, one that we deal with every day in the various processes that we go through in the most serious way possible.

CONAN: And let me ask you: To what extent do you think Army culture is involved both in difficulties in detecting the problems of soldiers who are having difficulties?

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, we have a term in the Army called being able to see yourself, and as Ms. Tarabay talked a few moments ago, the process that the Army has been going through since the creation of the task force was an ability to see ourselves as it related to this particular issue.

The Army senior leadership, from the secretary on down, has stated on numerous occasions that the continued stress on the force is having corresponding second and third effects. Suicide is but one of those.

But again, I go back to the fact that this is a national issue. This is not an issue that is just an Army problem. When you look at the fact that we have studied in this nation homicides, there has never before been a study of any significance and from a national perspective on the issue of suicide.

So it's a fair statement when you ask what the Army is doing, but I would also counter that in addition to that, we have to look at this as a nation at large.

CONAN: And I know the statistics, and we don't want to get involved in numbers here, but it's got to be alarming if the Army thinks that its rate of suicide is higher than that of the general population.

Col. PHILBRICK: No question, sir. This has been an issue that the senior leadership, from the former secretary to the current secretary, has articulated to the military leadership and the civilian people, I assume the civilian leaders, as well, that we have to put our arms around and do a better job at.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get some callers in on the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. Jamie?

TARABAY: I know that also one of the things that we've been looking at with the suicides has been while the number of active-duty soldiers from month to month has been going down, the number of non-active-duty soldiers has been actually going up. And maybe the colonel can talk about that a bit more.

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, that's true. For 2010 through the current timeframe, and I'll give you statistics, somewhere about the 18th of June, the numbers of active-duty soldiers that does include though mobilized Guard and Reserve soldiers has decreased from this point in time last year.

And that's a good-news story but certainly one that we're not going to rest on. But unfortunately, the number of National Guard and Reserve soldiers who are not mobilized, who are active service, has gone up this year.

And I'm asked the question often of why, and it's a legitimate question. Again, I can find no one, single factor. The issues related to relationships, the issues related to finances, multiple deployments in some cases, but again as she's Jamie's already mentioned, we have had instances where soldiers had never before deployed and that factor of during any soldier's first term of enlistment and the approximately three-year timeframe, there are increased stressors on those soldiers that do have the potential for causing concern.

CONAN: I was one of the quotes that was in Jamie's story that really interested me was there was, you know, most of them are young. Well, the Army's mostly young.

Col. PHILBRICK: Yes, sir.

CONAN: Most of them are white. Most of the Army is mostly white. Most of them are small-town. Most of the Army is small-town. There's no answers to be found in the demographics.

Col. PHILBRICK: Sir, you've answered the question that I get more often than not in terms of the why. We have no information right now. What I can tell you on the positive side of that conversation is the Army has partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health that many people consider to be on the preeminent leaders in that particular field of study to look at the issues related to the how and the why, to give us a better perspective.

When I talked again about being able to see ourselves, we recognized in late 2006 and beyond, that we were not able to properly put into context, with effectiveness that was in any way helping to drive down our rate and again, that's a rate that is from the Center for Disease Control, it's a national average, per 100,000 people in the United States.

I would offer again that that rate last published from the CDC was 2006. Again, I'm not pointing my finger at CDC because they have a very challenging mission in relation to being able to capture that, but as was stated, we have bypassed that rate.

I cannot tell you what the national average has been since that point in time because there's no official data that's come out in that regard.

CONAN: Let's get some callers in. Let's start with Greg(ph). Greg's with us from Indianapolis.

GREG (Caller): Yes, hello. My son died by suicide in Iraq on June 19th, 2009. On Saturday, we had the one-year anniversary of his passing.

CONAN: I'm so sorry to hear that, sir. It's almost exactly a year ago.

GREG: Yes, and that's why the story is quite impactful for us now. He our son was under suicide watch his first deployment in 2006, when he was an enlisted soldier.

He left the Army at that time as a part of, you know, he made his four-year commitment. But you automatically become a reserve for four years. So he turned down a total of 27,000 to re-enlist and then another 17,000 to be redeployed again. He was a good soldier, but because he knew it was going to be a tough go for him.

But eventually, he was called up again in April of '09, and we lost him very shortly after that. One of the issues that when we talked about you've got to tell somebody, he said that basically, nobody's going to believe me, that it's just, it's a tough thing.

And I'm not trying to attack anybody, or this is very complicated because maybe if every soldier, you know, could say I'm having trouble, nobody really wants to be deployed or very few do.

CONAN: Sure.

GREG: So that's it's a big issue, but he felt that there was no way to talk. And I want to quickly bring up what I think is the big issue. When our son died - and Brigadier General Colleen McGuire was heading the Suicide Task Force at that time - we discovered in about July that there's a longstanding policy that prevents a president of the United States or any high-ranking military people from acknowledging a family such as ours.

And so we've led sort of this campaign to try to get to find out why this policy exists. So we first wrote to the president on August 3rd. Subsequently, other news organizations picked it up. Secretary Gibbs said in November that they would soon have an answer to that review.

Most recently...

CONAN: I'm sure you meant press secretary, the White House press secretary.

GREG: White House press secretary, yes.

CONAN: Can you we have to go to a short break, Greg. Can you stay on hold with us? We'll be back with you in just a minute.

GREG: I will, okay.

CONAN: Stay with us. We're talking about the issue of military suicides. Our guests are Jamie Tarabay, a correspondent on NPR's national desk and Colonel Chris Philbrick, the director of the U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington.

To give you an idea of the scope of the problem facing the U.S. Army going back to 2001, more soldiers have committed suicide worldwide than have died in combat in Afghanistan.

NPR correspondent Jamie Tarabay has been reporting on the Pentagon's efforts to reverse this trend. You can listen to her MORNING EDITION report from last week at our website. There's a link to it at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

If you've been touched with military suicide, if this is a story about someone in your family, a friend, someone in your unit, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can join the conversation also on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Jamie Tarabay is going to continue reporting on this story. If you'd like to get in touch with her with a story that you'd like to talk about, again, you can email us, talk@npr.org. We'll transfer the email over to her.

Still with us on the line is Greg, Greg with us from Indianapolis. Jamie's with us here in the studio, also Colonel Chris Philbrick, and Colonel Philbrick, I think Greg was asking about a policy that he'd hoped to have an answer on.

His son died in Iraq, from suicide, almost a year ago. He said that neither the president nor any high-ranking officer or the secretary of defense responds to families like his when the case is suicide. Is there going to be an answer?

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, first of all, if I could make one quick comment. First of all, sir, thank you very much for the service that your son and the family certainly rendered to this nation.

GREG: Thank you.

Col. PHILBRICK: Secondly, I have had the opportunity to work with the vice chief of staff, General Peter Chiarelli, and General Colleen McGuire, on this particular issue.

We have responded to a series of queries for information from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and I'm told that that information request came from the White House.

I cannot tell you that the president has made an official decision, though I do know that is something that is being very seriously considered as I sit here and talk with you today. But again, sir, sorry for your loss, and the Army family certainly has great appreciation for what you have done.

GREG: Well, we have undertaken to encourage the president to overturn this policy, because we think it may play a role in undermining the effort to deal with the growing suicide epidemic.

CONAN: That this contributes to stigma somehow.

GREG: Contributes to the stigma, and what I talked about before, when my son said there was no way he could bring up his issues because they just simply would not be believed.

CONAN: Jamie?

TARABAY: I agree. I in the reporting that I've been doing over the last few months on this story, I can certainly tell you that when it comes to this issue, you have people like Colonel Philbrick, and you have, you know, General Peter Chiarelli, who are 100 percent this is not anything to be stigmatized with. This is not something that you fob off or anything like that. This is an actual injury in a lot of ways, if you have PTSD, for example.

But the buy-in at the lower levels is something that I think that everyone is confronting. I mean, General Chiarelli himself said that, you know, and I've got the quote here in front of me, he says: I'm a four star general. Everybody listens. But I know there's 10 to 20 percent I could talk to until I'm blue in the face who still don't really believe that those things that we can't see be as serious as those things we can see. So he has certainly been part of that message.

CONAN: And he's been on this program talking about the Army and mental health issues before, as well. So...

Col. PHILBRICK: Can I made an additional point, if I may?

CONAN: Go ahead, Colonel.

Col. PHILBRICK: And I don't disagree with anything that's been said, but there was a report earlier that I was somehow critical of what I consider to be past processes by the Army as it related to dealing with behavioral health.

Again, as I said, guilty as charged, but that was in relation to where we were before, not necessarily where we are today. Again, I go back to the fact that we have the senior-most leaders, but no one would be, you know, surprised if what the senior leader says doesn't always make it down to the soldier level. We acknowledge that.

Through various programs of outreach, education, assessment and, when necessary, intervention and treatment, we believe we're doing a better job. But again, it's not a function of doing better, you know, in the sense of patting ourselves on the back, because one suicide is still one too many.

GREG: If I could interject back...

CONAN: And if you'd make it quick, Greg, because...

GREG: Thank you, real quickly. Back early on the war, when we didn't have enough up-armor, and there was a lot of calls, when the president lent his voice to that, the issue changed dramatically. And with so many people dying by suicide, I think it's time for the president to lend his voice. We would greatly appreciate it and hope that will happen very, very soon.

CONAN: Greg, thank you very much, and again, we're sorry for your loss.

GREG: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Jamie, it's interesting. Greg is not the only parent who has been deeply involved in investigating the situation of their son or daughter who has been lost this way.

TARABAY: Yes, I've had the privilege of speaking to some families, including the Colley(ph) family that I feature in my piece, who have had to deal with the loss of their child and have so many questions not answered.

And they have become, in their own way, investigators, you know, applying for under Freedom of Information to get copies of the Army investigation reports to find out exactly what has happened, under what circumstances their child has committed suicide. That's definitely something that they've almost that they've had to become investigators just to find out, just to answer the questions in their own minds about what has happened.

CONAN: Let's go next to Joe(ph). Joe's with us from Bel Air, Maryland.

JOE (Caller): (Technical difficulties).

CONAN: Joe, are you there?

JOE: Yes, I am. Are you there?

CONAN: Yeah, go ahead.

JOE: Okay, I'll try to keep this short. I'm talking about a friend of our family. He was my son's high school one of my son's high school teacher, and he was a wonderful, crazy guy, outside-the-box thinker. And he could reach kids like nobody else.

And he was in the National Guard, went overseas to Iraq and Afghanistan, and when he came back, he really had a lot of trouble adjusting back to civilian life.

And he had, you know, some other issues once he got here, and he was being treated for PTSD, and eventually, it just overwhelmed him, and he took his own life about a year and a half ago.

And it's just such a tremendous loss, like all of these are, for the community and their families and friends. And I was wondering if these statistics and the studies are addressing not just the active-duty suicide, but all these people who are coming back I'll say ill-equipped really to cope with the transition back to a less-violent civilian life.

CONAN: And Joe, we're again sorry for your loss. Colonel Philbrick, you have an answer for him?

Col. PHILBRICK: Absolutely yes - in the sense that this is a larger issue than just the active-duty soldier. Initially, our focus was on that particular specific part of the force, but over time, with awareness and knowledge and continuing relentless approach to this, we understand that it is a total-force issue.

It is the National Guards and Reservists. It is also the Department of the Army civilian and our family members, who have also been touched by this issue.

So again, over the course of time, our education, our awareness, et cetera, has expanded to the entire Army family, and it has also included partnerships with great teams like the Veterans Affairs team, National Institute of Mental Health, I mentioned before. We're also working with other federal, state agencies across the country who are dealing with this issue.

CONAN: Joe, as you think back about your friend, I'm sure you try to think of him in his happier days.

JOE: Yeah, I mean, he's he was one of those guys who was just, you know, really full of life and just really great fun to be around. And of course, he was more he was closer to my friends and my friends' sorry, my son and his friends. You know, he was into drag-racing cars, and of course, he was, you know, much into guns, which, you know, teenage boys certainly looked up to the guy.

He just had a whole cadre of admirers among the high school boys and amongst his own friends, as well. But he was a wonderful guy, and we all miss him. And it's such a terrible loss.

I mean, I wasn't personally that close to him, but just seeing what a loss he was, you know, we went to the memorial service and the funeral, and, you know, so many people, you know, his former students and everyone who showed up to see him buried, you knew how many lives he had touched when it was here, and it was just such a tough loss for everyone.

CONAN: Thanks very much, Joe, and we'll remember him with you.

JOE: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Here's an email we have from Tom(ph) in Denver: As a therapist with the U.S. Army, I can tell you there is still a stigma attached with soldiers seeking mental-health treatment. While it's slowly getting better, it is still a difficult thing to get them into treatment, and when they do, they are still harassed and called weak by some of the soldiers and superiors.

Additionally, the numbers for the Army are actually higher than reported because at my base, if a soldier dies in the barracks due to drug or alcohol overdose, they usually say it's an accident, not really a suicide, although all of the signs are there.

There is much work needed to be done in this area. It can't start too soon.

Col. PHILBRICK: I agree that much more work needs to be done, but in relation to underreporting, I've talked about this on numerous occasions, the Armed Forces Medical Examiner is the repository for the final decision relative to a service member's death. Depending on what they make the decision of, that is what the cause of death is.

We don't influence that in any way, shape or form in terms of trying to drive our numbers down. But is it underreported, I would offer nationally it is, especially in terms of in our geographically dispersed areas, in Guardsman and Reservists, as well. Because now we're beholding, in a manner of speaking, to the civilian community to report it in the best way they know how. And in many cases, they don't have access to the same amount of resources, whether it's law enforcement, medical or leadership, that we do. So again, it is what it is, in that regard.

CONAN: Let's go next to Brad(ph), Brad with us from Medina in Ohio.

BRAD (Caller): Yes, sir. Thanks for taking my call. My son spent two tours in Iraq. Actually, he's home with us right now. And from talking to him, and he's just totally unfocused. You know, he has no clue what -where to go, and in talking to him when he was dealing with the issues, when he came back from his second tour, it's almost like a culture of despair that the kids have.

No one will listen. They just communicate amongst themselves. And it almost - it feeds on itself to a point where they, you know, just go over the top. We're very concerned that our son isn't getting any help.

And I really think the services ought to force the kids, you know, over a period of time when they come back, to pursue help, and, you know, when they come back have a benchmark where they're at and force them to come back and tie it into their benefits somehow, because - I mean, he's 24 years old, and he could choose to do whatever he wants to. And I have no input...

CONAN: And from what you're saying - he's no longer in active duty, from what I'm hearing.

BRAD: He's home from active duty. He's out of the regular Army. However he signed up for a Reserve unit. And he's talking about the - going back, signing back up for active duty again. And I think - he was on a suicide watch when he came back. You know - but I think he's on total despair, nowhere to go. And, you know, we're seeking help from the VA, but that's pretty slow in coming. And in the meantime, you know, the poor kid's just, you know, totally out of focus.

CONAN: Brad, we wish him and you the best of luck.

BRAD: I appreciate it.

CONAN: And I hope he gets help. Thanks very much for the call.

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, there are resources available to your son. I would offer that whether it's Military OneSource or through his Reserve unit that you identify - and don't be afraid to take the lead for him, because you things that, perhaps, on a daily basis, that he's not able to see. But to go back to the issue of benchmarking, we do that. We do establish a benchmark before the soldier deploys with a pre-deployment assessment that is looked at over the course of the deployment by the combat stress teams that are in theater. And then when they come back, they're also subject to post-deployment, and then with follow-up sessions along the way.

And I think if we go back to the case that was referenced earlier in the program where the service member indicated that he was what I would consider the high risk and he was not given the necessary attention, again, I don't know all the specific circumstances of what he went through in that regard, but when those issues are brought to the attention of the chain of command or the medical-responsible individuals involved, it is our duty, for lack of a better term, to get them the help that they need.

CONAN: Well, here's a clip of tape from the interview Jamie Tarabay did with Edward Colley, the father of Private Stephen Colley, who committed suicide in 2007.

(Soundbite of archived interview)

Mr. EDWARD COLLEY: The day after he told folks in that reassessment that he was planning on committing suicide, he did.

CONAN: And that's what so difficult. If this had been a bleeding injury, clearly, the Army knows exactly what to do. In this case, they didn't.

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, when you talk about the issue of posttraumatic stress or traumatic brain injury, my boss likes to refer to it as the hidden illness, so to speak, of the war. Because you look at the soldier - as you look at the civilian or the family member - you see no outward signs of their injury. There's no loss of a limb or bleeding or something of that nature.

But through the process that is rather, you know, basic in its approach right now, we don't know a lot about how the brain operates. It's matured over time. But I would love to be able to give you the same analogy that I do in relation to amputees, where you can go to Walter Reed and you can find a soldier who has lost a limb of some nature, and you can tell them with a degree of certainty that they're going to get -things are going to get better, that our treatments - I just can't do the same today when it related to behavioral health issues.

CONAN: Colonel Chris Philbrick, director of the U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

And also with us, Jamie Tarabay, NPR correspondent. Jamie.

TARABAY: Yes. Just on the Colley case, he - you know, he did everything. He was on post. He was at the base when he went through that mental health assessment. And he was giving off all of the alarms and all of the signals, and it was ignored. And more to the point, the person who took his assessment put him down for a sleep study for three weeks from that day. And the Army's own investigation found that if he had been taken to the emergency room, if the procedures had been followed, the suicide would, quote, unquote, "not likely have occurred." So, you know, even within the parameters of what is available now, that could have, you know, been avoided.

CONAN: Here's a couple of emails. Joy in Hellertown, Pennsylvania: Over a million of people around the world die by suicide every year. My son, A1C Austin H. Gates Benson, died in Khyber, Afghanistan, May 3rd. He was 19 years old, had been deployed for just over two months. He worked in an intelligence center and was highly respected by his peers. I believe that what he saw in his line of work caused him moral injury. He was very intelligent, very kind. We miss him very much, as do his Air Force family. We will always remember.

And this is from Amy in Minneapolis: I'm part of an organization that promotes healing activities for veterans and their families. In the faith communities, we believe, along with some researchers, that many veterans suffer from moral injury. Moral injury can be healed, but it needs to be addressed in particular ways. What is the military doing in relation to addressing the impact of moral injury? Colonel Philbrick?

Col. PHILBRICK: Well, if you had asked me this question perhaps three or four years ago and talked about alternative medicines, I would have, in all likelihood, told you that pending further evaluation, we were not interested. But I can tell you with a degree of certainty today, in terms of alternative pain management or alternative medicines, the Army has left few stones unturned in terms of looking at everything from acupuncture to other forms of therapy that are, in some regards, nonmainstream. Because if we can offer those alternatives to one soldier, one civilian, one family member to make a difference in their lives, to us, that's a good news story.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Col. PHILBRICK: So we can continue to explore those. And there's an entire organization that reports to the surgeon general that takes a look at alternative medicines and alternative pain management.

CONAN: And, again, moral injury resulting from experiences, presumably in combat. But, again, the statistics that you cited and Jamie in her report says that's not the entire story here. There's a lot more going on here.

Col. PHILBRICK: Sir, I would agree.

CONAN: And Jamie, I know you're going to be following up. Where do you hope to go next with this story?

TARABAY: I'm definitely going to be talking to more families about what we just heard before, the ripple effect. It's not just one person or one family that gets affected by a suicide. But we are also looking at definitely delving more into the statistics of - especially with these younger ones who never go out - who never leave the country and then commit suicide. What's behind that? What are the stresses involved? And just try to understand as much about this. I mean, it's so complicated. There are so many layers. And it's just so difficult to get at the heart of it.

CONAN: Well, one of the most important things is to talk openly about it and not sweep it under the rug. Colonel Philbrick, we appreciate your time and your willingness to be with us here today.

Col. PHILBRICK: My pleasure, sir.

CONAN: Colonel Chris Philbrick, director of the U.S. Army Suicide Prevention Task Force. Again, we apologize we could not get to all of our callers and all of our emailers. If you'd like us to relay your story to Jamie Tarabay so she might follow up on it, give us an email. The address is talk@npr.org. And we'll pass along your emails to her. And we thank Jamie. Appreciate your time today.

TARABAY: Thank you.

CONAN: Up next, 16-year-old Abby Sunderland was rescued trying to sail around the world alone. What were her parents thinking? Two very different views. The Opinion Page is next. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

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