Then, came the astonishingly bad news: the number of suicides among National Guard troops doubled in the same time period. Even more perplexing, the deaths were among soldiers who were inactive. In most cases, they drilled with their military unit only once a month and did not deploy to combat zones.
My neighbors all had the same first reaction – what? These men had no combat stress. They saw no death and destruction. They suffered no life changing injuries. They were home while our husbands missed birthdays, births and most of their families’ daily lives.
“If you think you know the one thing that causes people to commit suicide, please let us know,” Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli told the Army Times. “Because we don’t know what it is.”
Chiarelli said he didn’t think it related to job status as 85 percent of reservists and more than half of the men who committed suicide had jobs.
Did their relationships and family ties wither with each day’s uncertain future?
Were they overcome with fear as they saw their brothers in arms return from the front with injuries and memories too horrible for most of us to even imagine?
Some of these issues may have been haunting them with no one to talk to. Chiarelli said some reservists report for duty only one weekend a month. He thought one reason the suicide rate is higher among part-time soldiers might be because they have less regular contact with their commanders and less access to suicide prevention programs,
It is impossible to know what drove these warriors to take their own lives. What is possible is to try to reach out and pull those back from the brink who may be near the same fate.
Active duty soldiers and family members are well-versed in suicide signs and prevention thanks to recent campaigns by the Department of Defense. There are marriage retreats and counseling. There are substance-abuse treatment programs and teams of chaplains ready for the call.
In National Guard units, soldiers may live hours from the closest chaplain or base. They often live nowhere near other soldiers in their unit. They may live near no one who understands their fears or the duty they face.
Oprah hosted a show recently that highlighted the struggles of military families. Many families, she said, live among a population that has a disconnection from the war – they personally know no one who serves. Oprah hosted families, journalists and First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her “wake up” call to the nation to help military families.
Obama told the talk show host that military families’ struggles often go undetected because they shoulder the burden themselves.
The First Lady said she was astounded by some of the stories she heard and the pressures these families face when she began to meet military spouses during her husband’s candidacy for the presidency.
All Americans, not just those who have a rank attached to their family name, should learn the warning signs of suicide. America’s warriors, not just those who have been to the front lines, face a lot of stress. It is up to the people they protect to recognize when they might need help, and get it for them.
For military members and their families, help can be reached through the TRICARE Assistance Program, or TRIAP. The program is accessible by computer 24 hours a day, every day. Sessions are not reported to commanders or listed in medical records. Counseling is available through online videoconferencing. Therapists can offer support for stress management, relationship issues and self-esteem.
For help accessing TRIAP, or for more information about coping with stress and anxiety, visit www.tricare.mil/triap or contact your regional TRICARE contractor: TRICARE Regions www.tricare.mil/contactus, TRICARE West Region, 1-888-TRIWEST; TRICARE North Region, 1-877-TRICARE; TRICARE South Region 1-800-444-5445
To learn more about suicide prevention for U.S. troops, visit http://www.hooah4health.com/mind/suicideprev
Need help now? Call the National Hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)