Military suicide prevention efforts fail: report

Thu Sep 23, 2010 5:25pm EDT
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By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Efforts to prevent suicides among U.S. war veterans are failing, in part because distressed troops do not trust the military to help them, top military officials said on Thursday.

Poor training, a lack of coordination and an overstretched military are also factors, but a new 76-point plan lays out ways to improve this, Colonel John Bradley, chief of psychiatry at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, told a conference.

Bradley said a team of experts spent a year interviewing troops who had attempted suicide, family members and others for the report and plan, presented last month to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is due to report to Congress in 90 days.

"They tell us again and again that we are failing," Bradley told a symposium on military medicine sponsored by the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

Each branch of the services -- the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines -- rushed to create a suicide prevention program, but there was no coordination. The report recommends that the defense secretary's office take over coordination of suicide prevention efforts.

On-the-ground prevention training often failed because those running the sessions did not understand their importance, Bradley said.

"They are mocked and they are probably harmful," he said.

According to the report, available at, 1,100 servicemen and women committed suicide in 2005 to 2009 -- one suicide every day and a half. The Army's suicide rate doubled in that time.   Continued...