Fort Campbell training soldiers to prevent suicide


Posted on 27th May 2009 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 5/27/2009

Associated Press Writer

FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) ā€” Regular duties are suspended for three days at Fort Campbell, which leads the Army in suicides this year, so commanders can identify and help soldiers who are struggling with the stress of war and most at risk for killing themselves.

The post began a stand down on Wednesday so soldiers can focus on suicide prevention training in the wake of 11 confirmed suicides by Fort Campbell soldiers this year. More deaths are being investigated as possible suicides.

“This is not a place where Fort Campbell and the 101st Airborne Division want to be,” said Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend. “We don’t want to lead the Army in this statistic.”

From January to March, the installation on the Kentucky-Tennessee line averaged one suicide per week, Townsend said. After an Army-wide suicide prevention campaign in started in March, there were no suicides for six weeks, he said.

“But last week we had two. Two in a week,” Townsend said.

In a series of addresses this week, Townsend will speak to each of the approximately 25,000 soldiers assigned to the division. He told more than 4,000 soldiers Wednesday morning that the suicides must stop.

“Someone here has had thoughts or is having thoughts about hurting themselves,” Townsend said. “Or you know someone who is.”

Army leaders have been developing new guidance for commanders to help installations like Fort Campbell deal with rising suicide rates. Across the Army, suicides from January through March rose to a reported 56 ā€” 22 confirmed and 34 still being investigated and pending confirmation.

The Army has said that soldier suicides reached the highest rate on record in 2008. Officials said the deaths in 2008 would amount to a rate of 20.2 per 100,000 soldiers, which is higher than the civilian rate, when adjusted to reflect the Army’s younger and male-heavy demographics.

Frequent deployments by the division since 2001 have contributed to the stress suffered by soldiers at Fort Campbell, said Col. Ken Brown, the head of chaplains on the installation.

The three 101st Airborne combat brigades have gone through at least three tours in Iraq. The 3rd Brigade also served seven months in Afghanistan, early in the war, and the 4th Brigade has just returned from a 15-month tour in Afghanistan.

“We’ve been at war at this installation for seven years,” Brown said. “I think that has a cumulative effect across the force.”

Fort Campbell leaders have asked soldiers on the post to look out for each other and paired them up through a “battle buddy” system. Unit leaders are also reviewing and updating lists of soldiers who may be a risk for suicide and are reminding them they can seek help from resources such as a chaplain or a hospital.

But Army officials say many soldiers are afraid that seeking help for mental health issues will hurt their career or make them appear weak to their fellow soldiers. Townsend urged soldiers to speak up.

“You wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical attention for a physical wound or injury,” Townsend said. “Don’t hesitate to seek medical attention for a psychological injury.”

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

Pa. widow sues US over Iraq vet-husband’s suicide


Posted on 7th October 2008 by Gordon Johnson in Uncategorized

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Date: 10/7/2008 10:58 PM

Associated Press Writer

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ The widow of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide while in outpatient care for depression at a Veterans Administration hospital has sued the federal government for negligence.

Tiera Woodward, 26, claims in her lawsuit that her late husband, Donald, sought treatment at a VA hospital in Lebanon after three failed suicide attempts but wasn’t seen by a psychiatrist for more than two months.

She says doctors were slow to diagnose her husband with major depression, and that once the diagnosis was made, a psychiatrist failed to schedule a follow-up meeting with her husband after he informed the doctor he had gone off his medication.

Donald Woodward killed himself in March 2006 at age 23.

“I intend to make them make changes,” said Donald Woodward’s mother, Lori Woodward. “I have too many friends whose kids are in Iraq. I have a nephew now in Iraq, in the same unit, and I can’t have my family go through this again.”

Alison Aikele, a VA spokeswoman in Washington, D.C., said the agency does not typically comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit, filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, seeks an unspecified amount for funeral expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

It echoes other lawsuits nationwide over VA mental-health services, despite legislation President Bush signed in November ordering improvements.

The family of Marine Jeffrey Lucey, also 23, has a federal suit pending in Massachusetts over his June 2004 suicide. And two veterans groups sued the VA in San Francisco seeking an overhaul of its health system, citing special concerns about mental health, but a judge dismissed the suit in June over venue issues.

More than 150,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans have already sought mental health care from the VA, and another 200,000 have sought medical care, according to Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the California lawsuit.

“Each tragic veteran suicide is yet another painful reminder of the human cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and VA’s abject failure to provide timely and appropriate mental health care,” said Paul Sullivan, the group’s executive director. “How many wake-up calls does (the) VA need?”

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.