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Will an Anti-Suicide Oath do More Harm than Good?

suicider

By Debbie Gregory.

Congressman Brian Mast (R-FL) served in Afghanistan, and has been championing an idea to deter veteran suicides.

The “Oath of Exit” passed the U.S. House of Representatives on July 14th as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Part of the pledge would also commit troops who are being discharged to “continue to be the keeper of my brothers- and sisters-in-arms” in addition to the United States and the Constitution.

“Nearly every week I hear from a veteran who is thinking about taking their own life; maybe walking into their garage, turning on their car and never coming out,” Mast said on the House floor. “The idea for this came from friends of mine who had struggled with suicidal thoughts leaving the military. People who have actually been there on the edge.”

But some suicide prevention experts believe the plan is likely to do the opposite.

Mast, who lost both of his legs in 2010 from a roadside bomb explosion in Kandahar, said servicemembers are known for honoring their commitments. He contends that if they commit to contacting fellow veterans before harming themselves, they’d do it.

Some experts believe it could backfire.

When struggling with suicidal thoughts, veterans who sign the commitment could feel an increased sense of shame and guilt, explained Craig Bryan, a psychologist and executive director of the National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah

The former director of suicide prevention programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Caitlin Thompson, agreed with Bryan. Suicide prevention experts have been discouraging these types of contracts for the past 10 years, according to Thompson.

“It isn’t just that it didn’t work. It actually had the opposite effect,” said Thompson, who is now a vice president of Cohen Veterans Network. “A patient who signed a contract may feel guilty about talking about any further thoughts of suicide.  ‘I signed this contract saying that I wouldn’t attempt suicide, but I can’t get these thoughts out of my head.  Still, I promised my doctor and my family that I wouldn’t do it, so I don’t want to tell them about these thoughts.’  This way of thinking, particularly with someone who feels so vulnerable anyway, can easily spiral down a dark path and create further isolation and hopelessness – two of the hallmark risk factors for suicide.”

“A community of clinicians and researchers have continued to try to get the word out that this doesn’t work,” Thompson added.

Navy Rolls Out New Suicide Prevention Program

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Navy has rolled out a program aimed at providing added support for sailors considered at risk for suicide.

Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life (SAIL) is an evidence-based approach to intervention that provides rapid assistance, ongoing risk assessment, care coordination and reintegration assistance for service members identified with a suicide related behavior (SRB). Participation in the service-wide program is voluntary and is now available at all Fleet and Family Support Center locations.

The program works by linking sailors who have demonstrated suicidal behavior with Fleet and Family Support Center counselors trained in assessing suicide risk. Those counselors remain in contact with the participant for three months.

SAIL is not designed to replace existing suicide prevention efforts nor replace needed mental health services. It is not a form of treatment.

“A caring contact is all it is,” said Capt. Michael Fisher, director of the Navy Suicide Prevention Branch.

The problem of suicide among troops has plagued military leaders in recent years as numbers spiked. Navy Personnel Command data shows 51 active duty sailors and 10 reservists killed themselves in 2016, according to preliminary numbers. In 2015, the numbers were 43 active duty sailors and 14 reservists.

SAIL is patterned after the Marine Corps’ Marine Intercept Program, which began in 2014.

According to Fisher, some 40 percent of sailors who commit suicide had a previous attempt or impulse. Removing stigmas that prevent sailors from seeking mental health treatment or from helping those who appear to be in danger has been an ongoing challenge. The Navy has promoted intervention programs to help sailors recognize and respond to suicidal or risky behavior among their peers.

“We want people to be willing to step forward if they’re having challenges,” Fisher said.

The Military Crisis Line offers confidential support for active duty and reserve service members and their families 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255 or online at www.militarycrisisline.net. Text messages can also be sent to 838255. Questions regarding the program should be directed to Navy Suicide Prevention Branch at 901-874-6613.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Investigation Questions Work Ethic of VA Suicide Counselors

suicide prevention

By Debbie Gregory.

When it comes to suicide prevention, many of our nation’s veterans are being underserved.

A recent investigative report by USA Today reveled that while the Veterans Crisis Line is receiving calls at record levels, many hotline staffers were only handling one to five calls each day, and leaving work early.

The overflow calls that can’t be taken by the hotline forward to backup centers and are handled by counselors who don’t have access to veterans’ electronic medical records. These counselors are also less experienced in dealing with former service members.

This network of 164 private, nonprofit phone banks also provides 24/7 services for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. A 2015 Inspector General investigation found that some incoming calls from veterans went to voicemail after rolling over to the backup centers.

The poor work habits of the Crisis Line staffers have resulted in 35 percent to 50 percent of calls rolling.

The number of calls received by the VA suicide hotline increased almost 700 percent from 2008 to 2015, according to a recent government audit.

A recent congressional investigative report questioned the call center’s responsiveness to contacts made via mobile text, which found that four out of 14 test text messages did not receive a response from VA staffers. Of the 10 test text messages that received a response, eight were received within two minutes, and two were received within five minutes.

“VA officials stated that text messages are expected to be answered immediately, but, as with online chats, the VA has not yet developed formal performance standards for how quickly responders should answer text messages,” auditors wrote.

VA deputy director Sloan Gibson and other officials said they are currently adding counselors and taking steps to improve quality of care.

“I step back from this, and I look at it and I see a function, an activity, that has been chronically undermanaged for years,” Gibson told USA Today.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Can Social Media Be Used for Military/Veteran Suicide Prevention?

social media suicide prevention

By Debbie Gregory.

Suicide prevention often relies on the power of human connection. And since more and more, that connection is moving online, could social media play a role in reducing the alarming rate in which those who have served commit suicide?

In a study called “Indicators of Suicide Found on Social Networks” researchers discovered that those who died by suicide were most likely to show indications of hopelessness, social withdrawal and insomnia the year before, and in the month leading up to the suicide, they were more likely to discuss distress, relationship issues and religious affiliation.

“These clues on social media are very consistent with what we see are the warning signs in life — expressing their intent to die, hopelessness, a sense of being a burden and having no purpose in the world. It’s just another way for us to communicate,” said Dan Reidenberg, the executive director of Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Last October, our blog featured an article called “Plagued by Suicide,” which touched on the story of the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment who call themselves “the Forgotten Battalion.” Out of the 1,200 Marines who deployed together, at least 13 have committed suicide. Veterans of the unit, tightly connected through social media, would sometimes learn of the deaths nearly as soon as they happened.

The surviving veterans of the battalion depend on one another for survival. Using free software and social media, they have created a quick-response system that allows them to track, monitor and intervene with some of their most troubled comrades.

The Veterans Crisis Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 800-273-8255, press 1. Services also are available online at www.veteranscrisisline.net or by text, 838255.

Do you think there are enough resources available to military members and veterans to make a difference and stem this alarming

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Military Connection, MilitaryConnection.com, MilitaryConnection, Suicide Prevention, social media, veteran crisis hotline

Thoughtless Words Cause Concern: Military Connection

Thoughtless Words Cause Concern

By Debbie Gregory.

In this age of rapid communication, many of us have had a moment where we’ve sent a reply to an email or text message and the second it goes, we question if we sent to the right person. We second guess whether we remembered to attach that document referenced in the note. Sometimes we say the first thing that comes to mind, even though it might not be the appropriate comment. But the minute it leaves your fingertips, it’s out there for the world to see and to remember.

Such is the circumstance of a VA physician in Pennsylvania. A quick, not thought-out post on his Facebook page has turned into something that he deeply regrets, and so does the Veterans Administration.

Dr. Gregg Gorton, a VA psychiatrist, has been practicing for 30 years, treating psychiatric patients and teaching suicide prevention. While reading his Facebook timeline, a post appeared that had been shared from Imgur. The status stated,

“I am all for gun control. If there is a gun in the room, I want to be in control of it.”

Gorton would not call himself a gun-control activist, but for some reason, this status struck a chord, and he quickly posted a reply, “Off yourself, please.” He agreed that he has concerns about gun violence as many others do.

“It’s just one of those moments you’d rather take back in your life,” Gorton told The Associated Press. The exchange was also exposed in The Washington Times.

“The post was totally inappropriate and does not convey our commitment to veterans. We are taking steps immediately to address the situation,” the VA told the newspaper.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia is reviewing his 11-year job status. Gorton said he has deleted the post and realizes the Veterans Affairs agency does not need more negative press, “That’s not me.”

The hospital has apologized to veterans and called the post “unacceptable.”

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Pushing to Improve Mental Health Care: Military Connection

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By Debbie Gregory.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has introduced three additional bills to up the quality of mental health care given to those who serve, past and present.

Donnelly’s “care package” for service members proposes legislation that would require the Defense Departments and the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide the best care for mental health conditions.  The bills also contain provisions to help train community health providers and new physician assistants in mental health care, addressing what Donnelly calls a national “provider shortage.”

A champion of our nation’s service members, Donnelly previously authored the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act. Army Specialist Jacob Sexton, home on leave from his Indiana National Guard unit in Afghanistan, inexplicably shot himself in the head during a movie with his two brothers and a friend at a Muncie movie theater. Sexton was just 21 years old. Passed late last year, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 will help prevent suicide through three key provisions –

  1. Consistent mental health screenings at least once a year,
  2. Protecting privacy of service members, so that seeking help remains a sign of strength, and
  3. A report within one year of enactment, on what is working and what is not.

The legislation ensures that America protects and treats the mental health needs of those who keep us free. “For our vets, we’ve been losing 22 a day to suicide,” Donnelly said. “They have a place to turn to, they have someone to talk to, and they know they’re cared for and loved.”

Although many people are familiar with the above mentioned statistic, what is not widely known is that in general, for every suicide death, there are at least 4 suicide attempts. This problem is affecting a significant number of individuals who serve. Several surveys indicate that almost everyone in the military knows someone who has attempted or died by suicide.

Donnelly says his bills have bipartisan support.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their families. We are the go-to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go-to site.

Pushing to Improve Mental Health Care: Military Connection: by Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Army’s $65 Million Suicide Research

Army STARRS

By Debbie Gregory.

For the last few years of the war in Afghanistan, suicide rates were much higher than the casualty rates. Across the Department of Defense, all of the military branches have been actively and aggressively developing and reworking their suicide prevention programs. The Army has consistently seen the highest suicide rate among the service branches, often doubling the totals of the other branches. Looking towards the future, the Army is pouring a lot of funding and resources into reducing the suicide rate among its soldiers.

In 2010, the branch committed to a five year, $65 million program called the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (Army STARRS). The Army STARRS program, which runs through the end of this month, intended to identify the factors that both put soldiers at risk for suicide, as well as the factors that protect them from committing self-harm.

The Army partnered with the National Institute of Mental Health and several educational institutions across the country in this effort to collect data to be used to in the effort to reduce suicides among soldiers. These research partners will ultimately analyze approximately 1.1 billion pieces of data, including Army records from 39 different DOD databases. The research will span everything from personnel records to criminal records to medical records, looking at factors such as family history and secondary conditions that could factor in suicide risk or prevention rates.

In an effort to nail down high risk factors among all of its personnel, Army STARRS consists of five study components: the Historical Administrative Data Study, New Soldier Study, All Army Study, Soldier Health Outcomes Study and Special Studies.

Since its implementation, Army STARRS has identified over 4,200 soldiers that were deemed to be at a higher risk of suicide. The detailed findings will be published at the conclusion of the analysis.

As a nation, we mourn the loss of every fallen service member. We also owe it to the men and women who serve to try to prevent future losses, especially when it comes to suicide. With the amount of effort and resources being put into this research, we can be hopeful that Army STARRS’ findings will have an impact on suicide prevention, for the Army, all service branches, and the nation as a whole.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the ArmyNavyAir ForceMarinesCoast Guard,Guard and ReserveVeterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Boardinformation on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Army’s $65 Million Suicide Research: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: New Suicide Screening: By Debbie Gregory

militay suicide screeningMilitary doctors are looking to reduce the number of suicides among service members with psychiatric conditions by implementing a new screening system that flags those who are at the highest risk of taking their own lives.

Most suicide screenings are questionnaires that are dependent on truthful answers from people who often feel the need to hide their true symptoms and intentions for fear of retribution. The questionnaires also offer little-to-no help in combining factors to predict suicide risk.

Doctors have known for years that mental health patients are at a high risk of suicide in the months after leaving the hospital. Military researchers wanted to know what, if anything, those who did commit suicide had in common. They thought that a great way to proceed would be the pooling of databases of the patient’s military and medical records.

The research team analyzed the records of 40,820 service members who were hospitalized at least once between 2004 and 2009 for a mental health disorder. Researchers found that 5% of the sample patients tested 15 times more likely to commit suicide during the first year after being released from the hospital than the rest of the test group.

The team formulated a list of more than 300 factors that could be related to suicide risk, including age, access to weapons, military rank, history of substance abuse, IQ, clashes with leadership, combat experience, PTSD diagnosis, and marital status.

Through their study, researchers were able narrow the list of factors down to those that together identified the 5% at highest risk, resulting in more than half of the suicides that occurred within the entire group in the year following hospital discharge.

Some of the shared factors among those at higher risk were expected, such as previous suicide attempts, contracting a traumatic brain injury, and a history of using weapons. But other factors, such as an enlistment age older than 26, and having a higher I.Q., came as a surprise.

Researchers believe that if the new prediction program can be integrated into the military’s medical system, it could allow doctors to follow high-risk soldiers closely after discharge, allowing them to take preventive measures. These measures could include outpatient therapy in the weeks after discharge, working to build social support by enlisting friends and family, and teaching coping mechanisms to deal with overwhelming feelings.

This type of suicide screening is not likely to be immediately useful for civilian hospitals, which do not have nearly as much personal data on patients as the military does.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Suicide Screening: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Military Suicide Spike: By Debbie Gregory

Military funeralSuicide now tops the list of the leading causes of death among military service members.

American civilians have seen the public service announcements on military suicides. Veterans remember the briefings and the countless number of AFN commercials on the subject. And today’s service members are constantly trained on recognizing the signs of suicide among their comrades, and the resources that are available to them if they or someone they know should need help. But for all the awareness, for all of the effort, our service members are losing the war against suicide.

An October, 2014 article in the Pentagon’s Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (MSMR) provides eye-opening data on just how unsuccessful the results of the battle against military suicide are.

Before the current period of war, suicide was already the third-highest cause of death in the U.S. military. From 1998-2003, suicide was listed behind accidents and illnesses.

Not surprisingly, from 2004-2011, war was the leading cause of death. This span covers the height of fighting wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Suicide remained the third leading cause of death through this time period, behind illness.

But in recent years, the number of military deaths by suicide has exceeded those by war, accidents and illnesses, to become the leading cause of service member deaths. Approximately three out of every ten service member deaths are due to suicide.

The report cites data from Department of Defense Suicide Event Reports (DODSER). These reports revealed that between 2010 and 2012, there were 2,553 suicide attempts and 812 suicides within the military. The DODSER data also reflects that there were 53.6 suicide attempts  and 17.1 suicides per every 100,000 service members.

The vast majority of suicide activity occurred away from combat zones. According to the report, 85% of the suicide attempts and 83% of the  suicide deaths took place on U.S. soil.

Every suicide is a preventable death, especially when the bulk of those deaths are happening on our installations and in our communities. Please remain vigilant for the sake of the men and women in uniform, especially those of you in and near the military community.

If you observe someone who is in trouble, please refer them to the Crisis Hotline at www.veteranscrisisline.net or 1(800) 273-8255 (then 1). Those in need can even text to 838255 or utilize the Confidential Veterans Chat option.

The Crisis Line is for current military, Veterans and their families, but anyone can call for help for themselves or others contemplating suicide. All calls, texts, and chats are confidential.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Military Suicide Spike: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: You Still Have “The Power of 1” By Debbie Gregory

Still power of 1In September, Military Connection announced the launch of “The Power of 1,” a campaign administered jointly by the Department of Defense (DOD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The idea of the Power of 1 emphasizes the belief that one person has the power to recognize warning signs, intervene, create a dialogue, or make a phone call to save someone in crisis. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. It only takes one person or one single action to save another person’s life.

But as one suicide by a Veteran or member of the military is one too many, it is necessary to keep reminding those in crisis about the peer support and resources offered by the VA and the DOD.

Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in America among all ages and ethnicities. And it is unbearably high in military and Veteran communities. But by using the mentality instilled in service members since boot camp to look out for their comrades, the Power of 1 campaign is hoping to sharply reduce the number of suicides among active and former military members. It’s just a matter of looking out for one another.

Some indicators that your buddy may be considering suicide include talking about suicide, making plans, stockpiling medications, and withdrawing from people and activities that were previously enjoyable. People at risk for suicide could also be going through the loss of a loved one, relationship issues, financial difficulties, drug/alcohol problems, legal trouble, medical problems and more.

The Power of 1 campaign is designed to empower individuals who see these indicators, and give them the tools to help, and possibly save a life, just as they would have done in combat. The campaign encourages those needing help, or witnessing comrades in crisis, to utilize the many resources available, such as chaplains, military family life consultants, mental health clinics, peers, community support organizations, Vets4Warriors and especially the Military/Veterans Crisis Line.

When people call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, and press 1, they can have a confidential conversation with a peer counselor specifically trained to deal with any crisis or stresses the service member, Veteran, or family member may be facing. Calls to the crisis line are free, confidential, with trained professionals 24 hours/day, 365 days/year.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: You Still Have “The Power of 1” By Debbie Gregory