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Letter to Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, Re: Implement Aggressive Suicide Prevention Program

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Letter to Pete Geren, Secretary of the Army, Re: Implement Aggressive Suicide Prevention Program

Senator Clinton Calls on Pentagon to Implement Aggressive Suicide Prevention Program

Expresses Grave Concern About Rising Rates of Suicide in the Army

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today expressed grave concern about the troubling rates of suicide and attempted suicide in the Army. In a letter to Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, Senator Clinton called on the Pentagon to implement an aggressive suicide prevention program, including targeted outreach for soldiers at risk of harming themselves. According to recent news reports, more active duty soldiers committed suicide in 2007 than in any other year on record.

"The rising number of suicides in the Army is deeply troubling. These are the hidden casualties of this war and must not be overlooked," Senator Clinton said. "I have been proud to propose and see enacted into law a number of measures to help returning soldiers and their families cope with the mental scars left by time in combat. But the reported rise in suicides is a stark and tragic reminder that there is so much more to do to promote mental health for our soldiers and veterans. I urge the Pentagon to implement an aggressive program to deal with this challenge as soon as possible."

According to recent reports, the number of suicides reported for 2007 - 121 - marked a 20 percent increase over 2006. Reports also indicate that the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has increased by roughly 600 percent since the beginning of the war in Iraq.

Senator Clinton recently announced that several measures she had proposed to improve care for wounded servicemembers were signed into law as part of the Fiscal Year 2008 Department of Defense Authorization bill. These included provisions to increase coordination between the Departments of Defense and Veterans' Affairs to ensure continuity of care, as well as to ensure that families of wounded military personnel are able to take up to six months of unpaid leave to care for their loved ones during the often lengthy rehabilitation process. Senator Clinton also co-sponsored the Senate version of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which directed the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program for reducing the incidence of suicide among veterans.

The text of Senator Clinton's letter to Secretary Geren follows:

February 1, 2008

The Honorable Pete Geren
Secretary of the Army
Department of the Army
Washington, D.C. 20310

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I write to express my grave concern about the troubling rates of suicide and attempted suicide in the Army. According to recent news reports, more active duty soldiers committed suicide in 2007 than in any other year on record. The number of suicides reported for 2007 - 121 - marked a 20% increase over 2006. Reports also indicate that the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has increased by roughly 600% since the beginning of the war in Iraq. Given this deeply disturbing trend, I urge you to move forward with an aggressive suicide prevention program, including targeted outreach for soldiers at risk of harming themselves. I also ask that you brief my staff on ongoing efforts being made in this area.

Our brave men and women in uniform, who have sacrificed so much on our behalf, deserve nothing but the best care and support when they return home. Unfortunately, the nature of combat in Iraq - with its unanticipated protraction and 15-month combat tours - has lent itself particularly to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While our wounded troops receive fantastic acute care in military medical facilities, the diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems such as PTSD lags considerably far behind.

Mental health care needs to be a critical component of a comprehensive approach to health care for every servicemember. I have been proud to support some of the progress made in this area, including provisions in the recently passed Department of Defense Authorization bill; measures now signed into law include increased coordination between the Departments of Defense and Veterans' Affairs to ensure continuity of care, as well as ensuring that families of wounded military personnel are able to take up to six months of unpaid leave to care for their loved ones during the often lengthy rehabilitation process. In addition, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which I was pleased to co-sponsor, directed the Secretary of Veterans' Affairs to develop and implement a comprehensive program for reducing the incidence of suicide among veterans, and has been signed into law. That legislation established the precedent for a far-reaching suicide prevention program, including education, family support, and universal access to counseling. Despite this progress, however, it is clear that more must be done by both the Army and the Department of Defense to address soldiers' mental health needs.

I urge you to begin immediately to conduct aggressive, targeted outreach for soldiers at risk of harming themselves. Soldiers should have immediate access to individual counseling without fear of stigma from commanding officers or fellow servicemembers. Training must be given to staff in military health care facilities to identify key risk factors for suicide and to initiate timely and effective interventions. Finally, support must be given to the families of these brave men and women struggling to regain normalcy in their lives.

For those Americans who have given so much of themselves for our country, we must give back our dedicated support, and ensure that they have all the help and care they need. Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter and I look forward to hearing back from you on this critical issue.

Sincerely,

Hillary Rodham Clinton


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