Originally published Friday, August 19, 2011 at 3:31 PM

Provide resources to address Army suicides

Record numbers of Army soldiers killing themselves is a crisis great enough to warrant an untold amount of resources and attention.

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THE U.S. Army should continue pressing for answers, but more importantly solutions, for why its suicide rate has nearly doubled during a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

A rise in suicides among vets also raises alarms.

We know soldiers and their families are stressed from frequent overseas deployments that often do not include ample rest and recovery.

That point was underscored by Seattle Times reporter Hal Bernton's sobering account of Staff Sgt. Jared Hagemann, a 25-year-old Army Ranger who was sent to combat zones eight times.

Fear and stress about a ninth deployment led Hagemann to put a gun to his head at least three times, his widow, Ashley Joppa-Hagemann, of Yelm, told Bernton.

His body was found in late June at a training area at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Since the first of July, five soldiers from Lewis-McChord have died of apparent suicides.

Memorial services have come so close together, Bernton wrote, that one grief-stricken mother staying in a hotel near the base came upon another couple grieving the loss of their son.

This is a full-scale crisis that does not lend itself to quick answers and fixes.

The Army medical corps has instituted a "five-touch" program for screening soldiers before they are deployed and when they return. Soldiers are evaluated by health providers and must meet with a counselor 90 to 180 days after that. They are also assessed for risk as part of annual medical checkups.

Some service members are reluctant to seek out mental-health services. The Army is trying to change its culture surrounding psychological health but stigmas remain.

More mental-health resources, and better coordination of them by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs, is needed to support soldiers and their families. Army psychiatrists and psychologists familiar with the rigors of war are a key component.


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