By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 8, 2010 – The Army is striving to reduce soldier suicides and mental-health problems by giving troops more dwell time between deployments, identifying tell-tale symptoms more quickly and eliminating the stigma of seeking help, the Army vice chief of staff said today.
Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli recapped findings of a task force he commissioned to reduce soldier suicides and mental-health problems during an interview with Christiane Amanpour on ABC's "This Week."
The task force offered 250 recommendations, including establishing health promotion councils at each installation, expanding behavioral health screenings and recruiting additional behavioral health counselors.
"We have a force that has been stressed after almost a decade of war," Chiarelli said today, with many that have been home for just 12 to 16 months between 12- to 15-month deployments.
In some cases, this stress has led to problems with alcohol and drug abuse, legal troubles, mental-health issues and, in the most extreme cases, suicide.
The first step in reducing that stress level, Chiarelli said, is to provide soldiers 24 months before year-long deployments, and ultimately, three months at home for every month deployed.
"We know when that happens many of the problems that we've seen will in fact meliorate themselves," Chiarelli said.
Meanwhile, the Army is bolstering its behavioral health staff and encouraging more soldiers to take advantage of their services, he said.
It's an effort Chiarelli said starts at the top. "If you want to get at stigma, you start with the brigade commander [and] brigade command sergeant major and work right down the chain of command so every soldier sees his leader going through the same checks that the soldier's going to go through," he said.
"Leaders need to lead, to know their soldiers, to look for those signs that they see that Pfc. Chiarelli has changed. Pfc. Chiarelli is going out and maybe drinking a little bit too much, showing up for work late, whatever it might be," he said.
Part of the problem, he conceded, is that too many soldiers recognize that they need help, but put off getting it because they feel such a personal responsibility to their units and battle buddies.
"That's one of the issues that we have to get through is we try to break down stigma — to get soldiers to understand that these hidden wounds of war are things that they've got to seek help for when they have problems," Chiarelli said.
The Army also is exploring innovative approaches to identify troops grappling with the emotional stresses of combat and get them the care they need.
"We're looking for new ways to be able to deliver behavior health, such as virtual behavior health where we literally bring up a network using the Internet, using the network of doctors, say 200, from all over the United States who can, in fact, provide a good, good look at our soldiers when they return," Chiarelli said.