Military Connection: Reducing Military Suicides


By Debbie Gregory

President Barack Obama has signed a bill that aims to reduce suicides among Veterans, active-duty and reserve component troops. The statistics, which have been considered a national tragedy, have been on the rise for more than a decade.

A study released by the Pentagon shows that high-risk soldiers improved with intense behavioral therapy, and had substantially reduced suicide attempts. The study included 152 active-duty soldiers who either had either attempted suicide or were found to be high risk. Those who were given a form of cognitive-behavior therapy did better than their counterparts, who received a more typical form of therapy.

Co-investigator of the study, Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Alan Peterson, professor of psychiatry at the UT Health Science Center’s School of Medicine in San Antonio, and retired Army Col. Carl Castro, research director of USC’s Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans and Military Families, agreed that this research is ground breaking. “It is the first-ever suicide prevention intervention showing that a brief treatment protocol can significantly reduce future suicide attempts,” says Castro.

Psychiatric diagnoses have skyrocketed more than 60 % since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. More than 4,400 troops have killed themselves over the past 11 years, leaving the military plagued by suicides and increasing psychological problems since 9/11. The number of suicides is quickly approaching the number of U.S. troops killed in the long Iraq war, which stands at 4,489.

The 152 soldiers who participated in the study conducted at Fort Carson, CO, were lower-ranking Anglo men, which reflected the Army’s demographic, and were also similar in other categories that ranged from psychiatric diagnoses to the use of medications. The results could be, as Peterson said “the biggest, most important thing that has happened in suicide research in the military, certainly in the last 10 years, and maybe longer than that.”

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Military Connection: Reducing Military Suicides: By Debbie Gregory