Texas suicide lawyer Skip Simpson praises Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for putting his finger on one of the main problems of military suicides.
Last month, Panetta said military leaders need to be held accountable for prevention. He said suicide has become an epidemic in the military, with an average of one soldier a day committing suicide – about 33 each month. To raise awareness, he ordered the military to “stand down” for a single day.
These are men and women who put their lives on the line every day for us. We – and specifically the military leadership – have a duty to protect them from harming themselves, as they cope with the tribulations of returning home after living through the horror of war.
Service data indicates that Army soldiers in particular are struggling. The suicide rate among Army soldiers has tripled since 2004, with about 10 for every 100,000 a month in that year to nearly 30 for every 100,000 this year. In July, a record 38 Army soldiers committed suicide.
These figures don’t include the number of retired veterans, who reportedly commit suicide on an average of 18 per day.
Panetta was quoted by various media as saying that leaders must be sensitive to the issue and aware of the warning signs – and they have to be aggressive in addressing it. Seeking help, he said, must be viewed as a sign of courage, not weakness.
Unfortunately, this has not always been the case. Newsweek recently profiled a number of soldiers who had either committed or attempted suicide. One of the latter says that as he sat in the hospital after purposely crashing his motorcycle on the freeway, his father begged him to get help. When he went to his superior, he was told he could be sent to the on-base mental health unit, but that his career might be negatively affected. He was waiting on a promotion to commander, and told that seeking help could put his chances of that position at risk. He declined to get help.
Likely the superior who advised his subordinate not to go to the mental health unit was genuinely trying to help his subordinate by relying on his own experiences with the military. Until recently, going to a mental health clinic spelled the end to a military career. Often, security clearances were pulled, which was the kiss of death.
Until Panetta’s directives to the military leadership become operational and are religiously followed, military suicides will continue at the same alarming rates, Skip Simpson says. VA hospitals and clinics have received Panetta’s message loud and clear and are clearly superior in suicide prevention compared to civilian hospitals and clinics.
As a Texas suicide lawyer, Skip Simpson knows this is not how it should be, and it’s a positive step that the military is beginning to recognize this. But there is still a long way to go.
Part of prevention is recognizing the warning signs. Some of those include:
Sudden behavior or mood changes;
Writing or talking about death or ways to die;
Displaying risky or reckless behaviors;
Expressing hopelessness about the future;
Giving away valuables;
Making arrangements for pets or children;
Spending money erratically;
Withdrawing from others;
Preparing a will;
Sleeping or eating disturbances;
Increased drug or alcohol use;
Displaying rage, anger or a desire for revenge.
If you lost a loved one to suicide, contact the Dallas Law Offices of Skip Simpson, dedicated to holding mental health counselors accountable. Call 214-618-8222.