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May 31st, 2010
11:06 AM ET

Pentagon tells its warriors, it's OK to ask for help

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Memorial Day is dedicated to honoring the fallen in all American wars.  As the wars Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the U.S. military continues to grapple with increased suicide rates among its troops, the Department of Defense  wants to remind service members that anonymous mental health assessment tools are available on the Internet and by telephone, for service members who are feeling overwhelmed.

During the first three months of 2010, 71 suspected suicides in the Army were reported during the first three months of this year, according to  the Defense Department.

"The number of Marines who have died by suicide in recent years is shocking and unacceptable," Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February. In, 2009,  52 Marines committed suicide; 65 were lost in combat that same year.

In an effort to stem the continued rise in suicides,  all branches of the military  have multiple efforts under way. In addition, the Army is partnering with the National Institute of Mental Health in what they describe as the "largest study of suicide and mental health among military personnel ever undertaken."

But today – on Memorial Day – "Military Pathways" – a joint effort between the Defense Department and a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization called Screening for Mental Health – is reminding all members of the military that anonymous mental health self-assessments are available at http://www.militarymentalhealth.org/Welcome.aspx or by calling 1-877-877-3647.

The screening program addresses a variety of issues from lengths and number of deployments to post-traumatic stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, alcohol use and bipolar disorder. After the service member completes the self-assessment, he or she is provided information about the possible diagnosis and specific  resources available to help the soldier, marine, seaman or airman.

This program was first introduced in 2006. The purpose, according to the Defense Department, is to "reduce stigma, raise awareness about mental health and connect those in need to available resources."  Since its inception, more than 168,000 screenings were completed online, a spokesperson for Military Pathways tells CNN.

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Joe, LA, CA

    the key is getting these soldiers out of the day to day.. door to door routine of looking for insurgents.. they are a military force.. not police men..

    May 31, 2010 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Jason B.

    I think it would be better for our soldiers to be hearing this from either their fellow soldiers or from veterans, not just the Pentagon. The folks at the Pentagon are a bit "detached" from the soldiers in the field. I think their buddies in the trench or vets that have "been there and done that" have a better chance of getting the message through.

    May 31, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Eugene Frank MD

    As a psychiatrist, those who come through my door, at times, wonder if we ever could be friends, have a drink or even dinner: but one thing they never have to wonder about, is the safety of their secrets. The counsellors in the service, serving the uniformed, have an inherent conflict of interest in their allegiances: the service vs the serviced. This is the major obstacle for those who protect our lives, to have their secrets absolutely protected.

    May 31, 2010 at 15:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Army NCO

    Well I find this funny. As a Non-Commissioned Officer in the US Army, I encouraged my Soldiers to seek help and if needed they did. While deployed to Afghanistan, I was having some major depression and suicidal ideation. I came home on R&R and sought help with our home station "Behavioral Health" Clinic. At that point I was reassigned to the Rear Detachment, now that I have been assigned to this unit all of 12 months I am being forced to change station. I am leaving out current duty station and next duty station for purposes of retaliation, but honestly it's BS of what they say and what they do.

    May 31, 2010 at 15:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. MapCanuk

    The message is going out from the CoC and peers via Armed Forces television in Europe.

    May 31, 2010 at 17:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Clyde

    Agree w/Jason B. There needs to be more "success" stories of those who have sought treatment and continued to successful military careers. Military members need to have a clear understanding that seeking treatment isn't the "career ender" for the majority who need it. As with any medical condition, there are some (but, not many) instances when it isn't safe for the person to continue on in the military, but for the great majority getting the right treatment in a timely manner means they can continue to serve successfully.

    May 31, 2010 at 17:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Mike

    Any edict from Generals, the Pentagon or other high official is not going to solve the problem. Presently and for decades the seeking of help for mental stress, stress, PTSD or any other related problem is a death sentence for a soldiers career. It is an absolute total ceasing of any advancement once a request for help is made. This is why there are so many suicides. The soldier wants to be a success in the career they have chosen, they are dedicated, hard working and have a strong desire to contribute, however they know that as soon as they request help it is all over. This is why they don't seek, will not seek the help that they need to recover. To each it is the death of their future and the humiliation that follows every denial of advancement or promotion that leads to their taking their own lives. The "Brass" will say that this is not so, or that it has changed but it has not. It is the culture of the military that says "If you need help you are weak and are too weak to lead". This is no matter what the situation was that brought the stress on. When these soldiers see their hopes and dreams die then all they have left is the choice of dying along with their dreams.

    May 31, 2010 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Rob

    I dont think the folks at the Pentagon are any more detached then any other service member who's in garrison.

    May 31, 2010 at 18:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. David Paul

    I am learning that the soldiers do not trust the military. I have heard that soldiers have been told by high ranking NCO's that if they claim they have PTSD they will receive a dishonorable discharge. Those who turn to drugs after they get home and fail the drug tests receive a less-than-honorable discharge and are denied VA benefits. This is a national disgrace. There needs to be a Congressional investigation "From the bottom up and not from High Command down". The public needs to know the truth about the terrible way are troops are being treated. I refer to a recent Rocky Mountain PBS documentary about Fort Carson's Third Platoon. What a disaster! Please view this documentary if you want to learn the horrible truth. You can comment on the documentary web site. Join us in our support group for Jose Barco. This is not an isolated case. Our courageous warriors need our help as a community. They will not get it through the military or Federal Government. Support the troops in your local military communities. I am on Facebook. Contact me.

    May 31, 2010 at 20:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. CANDV

    The Pentagon and the entire DoD doesn’t understand the mentality of the soldier, sailor, airmen, or marine. Put in place all of the programs you want, but identify yourself as mentally unstable and you are letting down your comrades and forcing someone else to take your place on patrol/deployment/etc... Selfless sacrifice is what we are taught, and this is felt deeply as a weakness that can and should be controlled.

    I can’t imagine what it would feel like to let out the feelings that I have and disrupt the manning requirements that may keep one of my comrades away from their family even one extra day.

    Without selfless sacrifice we would have nothing of a force. The men and women who can handle the emotional turmoil do that in service for our country.

    The programs are appreciated by myself and I am sure those who use them, but there will not be a solution until we no longer need to ask our country men and women to make selfless sacrifice.

    May 31, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. bagger

    I'm surprised there is no discussion of the theological aspects to suicide. This blind faith in the "science" of psychology is a little disconcerting. Perhaps the military should consider looking into the spiritual essence of these men who have given so much for the rest of us. Our enemy fights at a spiritual plane and I don't think you can just dismiss this fact when looking at this suicide rate. Too bad our modern secular gov't will not take this angle seriously.

    May 31, 2010 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. sundog

    The stigma isn't just the usual stigma of mental illness that exists in this culture. It is the added threat that one could loose their security clearance, that they could loose their job. In the military that doesn't mean you get fired. It means that your career comes to a screeching halt while they look for a place to stash you til your contract runs out. And in the past, and its still happening now, the VA has had a very poor track record, adding to that stigma by purposefully diagnosing soldiers as malingering or with BPD, which means a lot less, if any benefits.

    June 1, 2010 at 00:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Kathy

    The key not only is to get the guys in to talk to someone, but it's also to provide adequate care. I think these departments are overwhelmed with the amount of patients they are seeing. My best friend who suffers from ptsd was seen once and given a cd -the sounds of the ocean, and was told to listen to it if he were stressed out...are you kidding me? his follow up appt was set for 1 yr.

    June 1, 2010 at 00:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Larry L

    Our military prevention and treatment programs are excellent and we've done our best to mitigate this very real crisis. The "big picture" is clear. We've exhausted our military force with endless war and destroyed the lives of Soldiers and their families with unprecedented deployments. We should be holding a military tribunal for former President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Carl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, and the rest of the criminals who started this mess. This isn't about terrorism, but rather about oil. We're like junkies looking for a fix, and our children bear the pain.

    June 1, 2010 at 00:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. SSG in Iraq

    The Army making it easier for soldiers to seek help but it's still not easy. I went almost 3 yrs without being diagnoised with PTSD. And I was finally diagnoised by a navy doctor and only once my marriage feel apart. The problem the Army faces is with so many soldiers deploying to OIF and OEF they are always a few fakers in the group using this to get out of the Army. Plus if you add the stigma of security clearences and the gossiping Army wives it makes it even more difficult. Plus, to get deployed again I had to either get a waiver to carry a weapon or stop taking my meds. Tough choice for someone who likes getting deployed because I can actually do my job and hate to admit it I am a better combat soldier then garrison soldier.

    Proud To Serve

    SSG G

    June 1, 2010 at 02:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Doc B.

    As a Corpsman of Marines', it is gut wrenching to hear that my Marines' are taking this way out. it is tough over here, and it is never ending. not only are we in a combat enviroment, we deal with the day to day stuff. We work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with little or no time off. I think the issue is the number of deployments. I have been in the Navy for 15 years, and have since been to Iraq 4 times, and Afghanistan 3, this being my fourth. i am on my third marriage. From the medical side of the house, we need to take more aggressive action to keep this from happening. Semper Fi !!

    June 1, 2010 at 02:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Jason B.

    @ Joe, LA: That's a reflection on how out-of-date their training is. Look at our military. It's built around "my big force of tanks & planes fighting against your big force of tanks & planes." Our military isn't currently designed for this type of small squad combat.

    June 1, 2010 at 07:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Dawne W

    The soldiers know that they can go and get help. The problem is with the providers who think it's unnecessary for the soldiers to let them go to those programs! I had that problem in 3d ID. I was told by psych that I had a personality adjustment disorder! Well, wouldn't you if you were a flightmedic and saw what most of us saw! Seriously... Personality adjustment disorder. It's the Army's way of saying hey, you have a problem, but in the end, we aren't going to pay you for it either. So I went off post to the VA readjustment counseling Center... in my opinion, it was the best move I made. I've seen soldiers get HUGE negative impact when it comes to getting help, in one friends case, they put it in his NCOER!! Get help and get ridiculed...

    June 1, 2010 at 08:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Richard

    better late than never...Good job CNN.

    June 1, 2010 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. John

    Finally, the Army is admitting there is a problem and thats the first step. For sevral years, we were in denial that we had a suicide problem.

    June 1, 2010 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. April

    Really? It's ok to ask for help? Yeah, the Air Force told that to my husband when he returned from a year long deployment. Then they kicked him out 6 weeks later, no benefits.

    He had just made Staff Sergeant and was planning to reenlist 4 months later. He had been to Iraq and Korea. He had put in 6 years, and they dumped him.

    They can say that you should ask for help. They can say that there will be no repurcussions. But they really need to enforce that edict. There are a great number of servicemen and women who have been drummed out on medical seperations for "pre-existing" conditions that weren't caught during pre-screening at MEPS, weren't caught in Basic, weren't caught during the years of service leading up to the request for counciling, because if the condition is "pre-existing" they don't have to give you your blue card. You're not entitled to retirement pay, Tricare for Life or Commissary priviledges. You are no longer their problem and they get to save money and face.

    June 1, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SFC in Army Reserves

    Background:
    I'm a senior leader of troops in the Army Reserve. I was an embeded Iraqi Army Advisor or (MITT) in Al Anbar 2005-06. I came home in September 2006 and all hell broke loose. I went from being shot at to back in a cubicle in less than 4 weeks. Divorced within 3 months of comming back. Wife had a boyfriend stashed away. Got help at the VA Hospital here in Washington, DC. I was over-medicated and attended PTSD group each week for over a year. My civilian job crumbled in a field that I have a Masters Degree in. My military job suffered as well. This high-performer was no longer such a species. I have not been alowed to perform my duty MOS since I've been back, yet I really don't trust myself with that much responsibility either. Something about PULHES , S=P3 that doesn't work so well with the higher ups. Its on my 2A so promotion boards see it and I'm screwed. They don't even need to know what it means, but yet they know what it means. Fast forward 3 years and I go about 5 nights without being able to sleep. Finally I picked up my phone near midnight and called my doctor to say I'm not doing so well. At the end of the answering message is the "Army's Emotional Support Hotline" I called the number.. if you are a veteran press 1 Welcome to the Suicide Hotline. The dispatcher asked if I had guns, I said yes, and then she asked me to put it down. (In my head, I'm like I have guns, I don't have them out!) So I told her "It's down" She continues to talk with me as if I have the cell phone in one hand and a gun in the other. Finally I was becomming more confused and agitated so I told her that I shouldn't have called and turned off my phone. I took my sleeping meds again and fell asleep. 6 hours later they are on a megaphone yelling for me to come out and they are concerned about me and they just want to talk. I'm like WT? They're going to wake up the neighbors. So I turned the phone back on and it rang with the officer outside. I answered, told them I was fine and had gone to sleep. They wanted me to come outside and talk. I look out the windows and they have floodlights at my front and back doors. I put on some clothes b/c it was snowing. locked my front door from the inside. I stepped out and pulled the locked door shut behind me. I turned around to over 20 giggly red dots on my chest. After wanting desperately to run back inside the locked door. I was arrested and taken to the Hospital for Suicidal Ideation. while I was being interrogated before they took me to the VA Hospital they asked me for my key to my place. I was like there is NO WAY I'm giving my consent for you to enter my place. One of the officers said... "We don't have time for this Constitutional Bull____!" Then they said to give them the key or they'd kick the door in. They kicked the door in. 3 days later the VA Hospital released me with the understanding that I'd be back with my girlfriend that night after my arraignment. I was then Held in DC jail for almost 18 days after my arraignment b/c I had barracaded myself into my basement with a six hour standoff and had three unregistered guns and seven different types of unregistered ammo in the house. In DC that's 10 misdemeanors. The Judge wanted me to go to a halfway house and I ended up waiting for the next Status Hearing. Where the next Judge released me after I interviewed with mental health. So I have to pee in a cup each week and see a PSO every monday till who knows when. we keep getting "Status hearings." Meanwhile, as a competitive shooter, all my guns and related accessories have been confiscated, along with all my "same-lot-number" ammo. My Battalion Commander is now afraid of me. My name has been entered into the NICS list. b/c without due process I have been ajudicated as a threat to myself and or others. So now Future Attempted Firearms Purchases for the rest of my life are now a Federal Felony. I'm undeployable because of medications, and the VA Hospital seems more like "He's functioning," "Next." I feel a bit more like a research project than a patient. To top this off in February of 2008 I was awarded an 70% disability rating for PTSD. After all this, I don't feel I'm equiped to lead troops appropriately. How can I recommend they call ANY hotline after what has and is happening/ed to me? My Company CO and 1SG have been great during this whole process, but higher than that all bets are off!

    June 1, 2010 at 13:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Chalupa

    The second sentence in this policy has been omitted. Ask if you need help. Asking is a sign of weakness. Military service is based on completing the mission, no matter the cost. To do otherwise is tantamount to letting to deserting your fellow soldier.

    June 1, 2010 at 13:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. GIJoe

    What Mike said. Must have served because he hit the nail on the head.

    June 1, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Steve

    My father served in Vietnam, I served in Iraq in the first gulf war and my son served in this one with two tours in Iraq. After watching and listening to our 'leaders" in Washington and the treatment our soldiers receive time and time again from the "american flag sticker on my car crowd", I no longer fly the flag or give the pledge of allegiance. I will will never carry a rifle for this country ever again or defend it. This country does not deserve the people that defend it. We have been stabbed in the back too many times.

    June 1, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Pete

    I'm sorry, but I come from a family with a large military background. I have family who has gone through West Point and are ranked as high as General in the United States Army. The best way to end this is to get out of a war that we shouldn't have entered in the first place. We are using conventional methods to fight an unconventional guerilla war and frankly, its ridiculous. GET OUR BOYS OUT!

    June 2, 2010 at 09:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Linda Bean

    The Pentagon's statement doesn't acknowledge that there are fighting men and women and veterans who can't or won't - for their own good reasons - use the military or VA behavioral health system.

    The leaders of our armed forces and the Veterans Administration should catalog and publicize available civilian resources.

    This is a partial list:

    GiveAnHour and the Soldier's Project provide counseling on a confidential basis. GiveAnHour has therapists across the county that have donated their time and they are easy to find with a zip code search. Both are particularly useful for people who may be geographically distant from military or VA services. and both serve families, as well.

    The Soldier's Project: (1.877-576-5343)
    GiveanHour: http://www.giveanhour.org

    In addition, the National Veteran's Foundation runs a hotline and live-chat service, staffed by veterans who are trained in crisis management. (1.888.777.4443)

    If a vet is looking for peer support, Vets4Vets is available at 520.319.5500, or http://www.vets4vets-us.org.

    Not for nothing, but news organizations could pitch in here - particularly local and regional outlets. It could be a great service to identify and then report on the civilian resources locally available to military families.

    Thank you.

    June 2, 2010 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Ruth

    Service members, veterans and military families need to know that they are not alone. I support a DoD program called the Real Warriors Campaign (www.realwarriors.net), which includes tools and tips for active duty service members (including service-specific information), members of the National Guard and Reserve, veterans and military families experiencing psychological health concerns or traumatic brain injury. At the heart of the campaign are Real Warriors who have had the strength to reach out for care and are now sharing their stories to prove to their fellow service members that seeking help does not automatically mean the end of a military career. If you or a loved one is experiencing post combat stress or other invisible wounds, I encourage you to visit http://www.realwarriors.net and take advantage of the site’s tools and resources, including a live chat that will confidentially connect you with a health consultant 24/7/365. Reaching out is a sign of strength.

    June 2, 2010 at 09:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. militaryspouse

    just another waste of money by the dod. another important issue that is getting money thrown at it with no real oversight or real help. helps, but by no means resolves this huge problem.

    June 2, 2010 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Matthew Clark

    Army Wives gives us an idea of the life of the wive of the fighting soldier.`*'

    July 11, 2010 at 00:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Inflatable Bed

    it is sometimes kinda sad to watch some episode of Army Wives specially when there is a dead soldier ,,`

    December 4, 2010 at 01:26 | Report abuse | Reply

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