Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Peter Chiarelli has devoted a great deal of time over the last three years to reducing suicides in the Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard. He’s worked diligently at it, and the process has been transparent and thorough. And yet, the numbers still tick upwards.
The latest numbers released by Chiarelli during a briefing with reporters Thursday show that active-duty Army suicides were up again in 2011, compared to 2010. And suicides throughout the Army, the Army Reserves and the National Guard, while down in the past year, are still nearly 40% above what they were from 2008, the year before Chiarelli began overseeing the Army suicide prevention effort.
The figures show that there were 164 suicides in the Army in 2011, compared to 159 in 2010. For all three categories — Army, Army Reserves and National Guard — there were 278 suicides in 2011, compared to 200 in 2008.
Chiarelli said he is not frustrated by the trend. “The question you have to ask yourself, and this is the end no one can prove, is: What would it have been had we not focused the efforts that we focused on? How much more would it have continued to climb?”
“What I look at here is the fact that for all practical purposes for the last two to three years it has leveled off,” Chiarelli said.
One of the ways Chiarelli believes that suicides can be reduced is to keep guns out of easy reach of military personnel who have exhibited warning signs or expressed suicidal ideations. “A majority of them [suicides] have two things in common, alcohol and a gun. That’s just the way it is,” Chiarelli said. “And when you have somebody that you in fact feel is high risk, I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to tell that individual that it would not be a good idea to have a weapon around the house.”
That is sure to set of cries of paranoid outrage among the Second-Amendment-is-the-only-amendment crowd, who put their ideology above everything else, in spite of the fact that Chiarelli takes great pains to stress that no one wants to take the guns away from combat veterans, he simply wants the Army to be able to ask the question but right now, they can’t.
Right now, a soldier can go to the mental health facility on his or her base and bare their soul to a counselor, and be asked all sorts of intimate, personal questions. Questions about their relationships, their sex life, their family life, their personal habits…but the same counselor who is trying to help them has at least one hand tied behind their back because the NRA has managed to get a law on the books that says a mental health professional can’t even ask if there is a gun in the home.
And that’s just crazy.
[This post is written as part of the Media Matters Gun Facts fellowship. The purpose of the fellowship is to further Media Matters’ mission to comprehensively monitor, analyze, and correct conservative misinformation in the U.S. media Some of the worst misinformation occurs around the issue of guns, gun violence, and extremism. The fellowship program is designed to fight this misinformation with facts.]