May 23 05:21 PM
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Suicide prevention campaign urges soldiers to seek out help

To the Editor:

A May 2, 2010 article by Gretel C. Kovach, Union Tribune staff writer, reports the rate of suicide in the US military has escalated during the more than eight years of combat between the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

In 2009 the Marine Corp reported the highest suicide rate among the armed forces—24 per 100,000, losing more troops to suicide than combat in Afghanistan last year. The active duty Army had 21.7 suicides per 100,000, its highest rate since the Vietnam war.

Marine commanders said that while the stigma against mental illness and perceptions of weakness remain prominent, the prevention campaign has made it more likely for the rank and file to seek care. Still, the deaths continue despite an array of projects rolled out in recent years to help troops cope with combat and operational stress, and the Marines and military overall have been losing ground in their efforts against suicide.

Cmdr. Aaron Werbel, head of the Marine Corps Suicide Prevention Program, said "there has been a lot of really serious concern. Of all the things we are doing, what are we missing? Is there something that we have not hit upon yet that would help us turn this around?"

Although Marines may pride themselves on being able to suck it up, they are now being told "Marines, it is ok to ask for help." A long list of stressors, including relationship problems, money troubles and job dissatisfaction can push a Marine over the edge. While combat stress may factor into some suicides, the war tempo is wearing on the entire force. Sixteen of the Marines who committed suicide last year had never deployed.

"The Marine who has never deployed is still at risk for suicide with this high 'op tempt,' they may be doing the job of three Marines," Werbel said.

Bonnie Carrol, founder of the Tragedy Assistance Program for survivors, a national support organization for families coping with the death of a service member, visited the Parris Island boot camp in February. She was impressed by how drill instructors invoke the bonds among Marines. They said "when you get in trouble in combat, you call in air support. When you get in trouble in life, you call on your buddies."

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255. Military One Source 24 hour hotline is (800) 342-9647. An information and online chat for veterans Web site is


—Susan Sam

Imlay City

May 11, 2010

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