June 2nd, 2009
04:17 PM ET

Military chief: troops at risk from multiple deployments

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/05/25/north.korea.nuclear.mullen/art.mullen.file.gi.jpg
caption="Adm. Mike Mullen says it will take a few days to verify that North Korea conducted a nuclear test."]

Greg Clary
CNN Washington Bureau

America’s highest ranking military officer said Tuesday the military must do a better job for the mental health of American soldiers as they return home from battle warning  statistics show “there are going to be more (troop) suicides this year than last.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen said as troops come home, the military is lacking the necessary amount of mental health professionals to help them deal with the high stress of war.  Mullen said he’s working to get more funding to increase the number of counselors so more soldiers can be helped.

Mullen made the comment to an audience of military families during a breakfast sponsored by the Hill newspaper at the Liaison Hotel in Washington.

“I think we need to get to a point where everyone is screened by a competent mental health professional,” Mullen said.

The help can’t come soon enough as officials say 64 soldiers have committed suicide this year in the army alone. Military officials say this year’s 64 suspected Army suicides are on a grim pace to break last year’s record of 133.

The issue came to a head last week as Fort Campbell in Kentucky stood down for a three day suicide prevention event after 11 soldiers committed suicide there this year.

Suicides aren’t the only problem stress can cause for soldiers.  The Army charged Sgt. John Russell with the murder of five fellow troops at a stress clinic in Baghdad’s Camp Liberty last month.   Russell’s commander referred him to counseling because of concern for his mental health.

But there are some strategies which seem to be helpful in treating stress, Mullen said.   He singled out Ft. Hood in Texas.  Mullen said even though Fort Hood in Texas has 30,000 more soldiers than at Fort Campbell, there was only one suicide at Fort Hood as of April.

“The General out there had essentially focused on relieving stress (and) not just attacking the suicide issue and he’d done it very systematically. It just shows that when leaders apply themselves, we can make a big difference there,” Mullen said.

Attacking the overall stress in soldiers may be more effective than just worrying about suicides, the admiral said, as troops face stress not just in war but also in day to day life as well.

“We are working hard to understand the underpinnings of this and broadly, many of these suicides occur based on failed relationships, financial problems in a history too often discovered after the tragic event,” Mullen said.

In fact, half of the suicides at Fort Campbell were committed by soldiers who had never deployed but Mullen said there is still a connection.

“I’ve heard people use that as a reason that would very possibly say the deployments don’t have anything to do with it and I just don’t believe that,” Mullen said.  “I believe there is a relationship between those who haven’t deployed but are going to deploy and all of the stress and hype that you hear as you get ready to go on your first deployment.”

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soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. Lisa in CA

    Under the previous administration, supporting the troops was only relevant while they were on foreign soil. Once home, support was cut. And, if I recall what I had previously read, many in the military – rather than treating the PTSD caused by deployment in a war zone – determined that most of those affected had pre-existing psychological issues and declined to treat. Talk about passing the buck.

    But I have to ask - why are people surprised by the suicides? The boys (and that is what they are – boys) do not know how to deal with the realities of the world, let alone war. This is not a live-action videogame where the participants can be "reset" and the "games" start over.

    Our military needs to do a much better job of preparing these boys for the realities of war and have the necessary "support" on hand when they return to help them deal with the realities of being home.

    June 2, 2009 at 6:14 pm |
  2. earle,florida

    I have a unique idea? How about getting the funding from the mercenary army that's on the U.S. Military off-budget payroll,...I'm sure there's billions to spare!

    June 2, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  3. Mary

    The help can’t come soon enough as officials say 64 soldiers have committed suicide this year in the army alone. Military officials say this year’s 64 suspected Army suicides are on a grim pace to break last year’s record of 133.

    133, is that all?
    What about the suicide rate for the average Americans?
    The unemployeed, homeless, addicts?

    Get real here.

    June 2, 2009 at 5:11 pm |
  4. Terry

    The need for mental health proffessionals in the armed forces is a necessity. These young men and women recieve more than adequate training in terms of fighting a war and hopefully keeping themselves alive. But I question how well they are mentally prepared for their encounters with death and dying. My son was deployed to Iraq when he was 21 yrs old, there was no way that he could have prepared himself for seeing a buddy being blown up by an I.E.D., or esecorting a dead body to another military base or seeing children maimed and disfigured by bombs. How could anyone expect their child not to be profoundly affected by these experiences. After spending a year dealing with this war, he was told a day or so before he was to go home that his tour was extended for another 6 months. The disappointment and dread in his voice was apparent enough to make me cry. He had held on for so long enduring this war, managing to cope ,internalizing all that he had seen and experienced, only to have his dreams of going home and being safe taken away from him. The soldiers in his unit were tired and worn out having been out patroling some of worst cities in Iraq, fearful that they or their buddies would not survive another day. This situation was handled very poorly, I questioned how much emotional support they recieved after getting the news they were extended. Surprisingly, they all sucked it up and continued to be good soldiers and do what they were told to do When my son came home, he was only a shell of the young man he was when he joined the Army, he will never be the same for good or bad. The best way to describe him is haunted!

    June 2, 2009 at 5:09 pm |
  5. Gina

    For starters the military needs to stop pushing psychotropic meds on their soldiers in order to blunt their emotions so that they can be redeployed again and again. These medications have been shown to cause suicidal and homicidal ideations along with sleep problems, anxiety, and aggressiveness. These soldiers have been at war – they have every right to be depressed and anxious about their situation. Blunting their emotions in order to keep them fighting is slowing killing them. They need actual therapy and coping skills not a quake with a prescription pad.

    June 2, 2009 at 5:07 pm |