Army General Chiarelli Tackles Issue of Soldier Suicide

Army Suicides in June Hit All-Time High

ByABC News
August 8, 2010, 7:43 AM

August 8, 2010— -- The number of army suicides hit an all-time high in June, with 32 servicemembers taking their own lives.

A startling 350-page U.S. Army report released last week was stark in its assessment of the growing tragedy: "Simply stated, we are often more dangerous to ourselves than the enemy."

"We have an army that's, for almost a decade, has been going very, very hard with our operational tempo," Army General Peter Chiarelli told Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview on 'This Week.' "[It has] our soldiers deployed for 12 months, home anywhere from 12 to 16 months, and back for another 12- or 15-month deployment."

Chiarelli, who commissioned the report, said there is not a direct connection between multiple deployments and increased risk of suicide. 60% of suicides are during the soldier's first term of enlistment, he told Amanpour. Even so, he emphasized that the growing strain on military leaders increased risky behavior in some soldiers and made monitoring at-risk soldiers harder.

During this period of increased deployments, Chiarelli said, "we've seen an increase with some soldiers, a very small number of soldiers, of high-risk behavior ... the abuse of alcohol, drugs, getting in trouble with the law."

Leaders of those at-risk soldiers, because of the operational tempo, sometimes overlook signs that the soldiers might need help.

"While our commanders and subordinate leaders are phenomenal warriors, they are unaccustomed to taking care of soldiers in a garrison environment," the report, released on July 29 at the Pentagon, said.

"There are instances where a leader's lack of soldier accountability resulted in suicide victims not being found until they had been dead for three or four weeks," the report said. "In an organization that prides itself on never leaving a soldier behind, this sobering example speaks to the breakdown of leadership in garrison, which appears to be worsening as requirements of prolonged conflict slowly erode the essential attributes that have defined the Army for generations."

Chiarelli also emphasized that reducing the stigma among soldiers of seeking behavioral help was an important factor in reducing suicides.

"That's one of the issues that we have to get through," Chiarelli said. "We try to break down stigma. To get soldiers to understand that these hidden wounds of war are things that they've got to seek help for when they have problems."

Last month the Army released startling statistics showing that 21 active duty soldiers and 11 servicemembers in the National Guard and Reserves took their own lives in June. It was a one-month record.

Over time, Chiarelli hoped to increase the amount of time soldiers have at home between tours of service.

"We're not there yet, but we're going to see ourselves get further, what we call, into balance," he said. "The first step for us is getting one year deployed, 24 months at home. That's our first step. We would like to get to one to three, which would be either nine months deployed, 27 months back home or 12 months deployed, 36 months back home," the general said.

"We know when that happens," Chiarelli explained, "many of the problems that we've seen will in fact ameliorate themselves."

ABC News' Luis Martinez contributed to this story.