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Army releases report on suicide, high-risk behavior

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (July 30, 2010) -- To curb suicides in the Army, commanders must pay more attention to junior Soldiers and to those who exhibit high-risk behavior, such as drug use or driving under the influence.

During a press conference today, the Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force released its report "Health Promotion, Risk Reduction, Suicide Prevention." Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli discussed the report's findings and recommendations, and also said how commanders can use the report to help keep Soldiers from taking their own lives.

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In fiscal year 2009, there were 160 suicides in the Army. Of those, 79 percent were among those who had been deployed only once, or had not deployed at all. Additionally, 60 percent of suicides were among first-term Soldiers.

"The most dangerous year to be a Soldier is your first year," Chiarelli said. "We see more suicides in that first year than in any other year."

The general said leadership should be focusing on sponsorship programs for "young Soldiers coming in the unit, just out of basic, who are trying to make friends, who (are) new to the unit. These are the kinds of lessons you draw from this data that we believe are going to be absolutely essential to us getting a handle on this."

Chiarelli also said that commanders should use information contained in the report to "to help you prioritize your time and who you are going to concentrate on."

Started 15 months ago in response to an increase in suicides in the Army, the more than 300-page report "indicates identifiers of high-risk behavior, reflective of stress and strain on the force. (And) also identifies gaps in policies, processes and procedures pertaining to the surveillance and detection of high-risk and suicidal behavior," the general said.

The report "not only says where we are today and what we have done so far to try to fix it, but it also lays out a way ahead for how we are going to get us back to where we need to be," he added.

The report contains more than 250 recommendations to identify and mitigate problems in the Army related to suicide and high-risk Soldier behavior. The report will go forward to a staffing process, and determinations will be made as to which recommendations will be put in place, the general said.

One recommendation involves use of prescription drugs.

"There is no policy governing the length of 'as needed' prescriptions," the report reads. "These open-ended prescriptions create another policy and process gap that harbors illicit use."

When a Soldier tests positive for a pain killer that he had been prescribed perhaps more than a year before, there is no way to determine if he is still using that drug "as needed" or if he is in fact purchasing it on the street and abusing it.

"From the commander's perspective, there is no way to detect the masked abuse of 'as needed' prescription drugs," the report reads.

One of those recommendations, Chiarelli said, involves limiting prescription duration so a prescription is not considered valid after one year without provider reevaluation and renewal.

"If you have an open-ended prescription, forever that person would be cleared by a medical review officer because they have been prescribed that. Let's make sure when we prescribe that we put an end date on that prescription. So it doesn't remain an open ended opportunity for somebody to be abusing drugs."

Another recommendation, Chiarelli said, is that commanders should be more disciplined in ensuring compliance with DA Form 4833 requirements. That form, the "Commander's Report of Disciplinary or Administrative Action," helps the Army keep track of a Soldiers high risk behavior wherever he may go, ensuring commanders at a new unit have visibility of a Soldier's past behavior

According to the report 36 percent (78,410) of DA Forms 4833 were not completed from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2009.

"Those are the kinds of things we have to get back to doing in the force today," Chiarelli said.

Other key findings in the report include:

Key findings include:

• Gaps in the current HP/RR/SP policies, processes and programs necessary to mitigate high-risk behaviors

• An erosion of adherence to existing Army policies and standards

• An increase in indicators of high-risk behavior including illicit drug use, other crimes and suicide attempts

• Lapses in surveillance and detection of high risk behavior

• An increased use of prescription antidepressants, amphetamines and narcotics

• Degraded accountability of disciplinary, administrative and reporting processes

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