FORT HOOD, Texas (FOX 44) — May is Mental Health Awareness month and one aspect many are affected by in Central Texas is soldier suicide.
It is estimated that by 2030, total veteran suicides will be 23 times higher than the number of post 9/11 combat deaths, reported by the organization Stop Soldier Suicide.
“If we create leaders that are well trusted, then people will bring them their problems,” Maj. Matthew Weathers said, the Deputy Chaplain for First CAV Division on Fort Hood.
Soldier suicide is a tragedy striking many Army installations. Most now have training every soldier and leader must complete to learn about the signs and how to intervene.
“ACESI, which is ask, care, escort, suicide intervention,” Sergeant First Class Jonathan Reeves said, the Resilience Coordinator for First CAV Division. “There’s an eight hour class that is given to people in positions of trust and leaders. And it teaches the precursors and risk factors of potential for suicide, for not just suicide. It focuses mainly on suicide, but also at risk behaviors.”
Reeves went through the process of healing himself and says the help begins through that first conversation of a soldier and their first level of leadership.
“Specifically ask, are you having thoughts of suicide,” he told FOX 44 News. “And when they ask that question, the only thing that there is left to do if the soldier says yes, is to escort them either to some kind of higher echelon of care, whether it be the emergency room, the chaplain or embedded behavioral health.”
Weathers says when it comes to learning more about a leader’s soldiers, the Army has multiple resources and outlets to do bonding activities or group style exercises that can work as a type of therapy to help soldiers open up if they are having difficulties.
“If we can continually get soldiers celebrating life together and enjoying life together and feeling like they have a connection just beyond being people to go to work together, it makes a huge difference as a protective factor,” Weathers said.
The Army also offers what it calls post-vention for after a suicide to the family members and soldiers that had relationships with the fallen trooper.
“In 24 hours, they’ll be assigned a casualty assistance officer who will be their liaison with the military for all things regarding the soldiers, the soldiers entitlements,” Reeves said. “And that liaison officer is that is their full time job is taking care of that family until the family doesn’t need them anymore.”
After that, the leaders of the unit gather the soldiers to announce the death and at that time, chaplains and faith counselors will be on stand by for anyone needing the resources.
The last piece is every First Cavalry soldier, regardless of how they died, will have a memorial ceremony to honor them and the legacy they leave behind.
Both leaders say that although suicide is hard to talk about, it needs to be discussed so soldiers who are in that place know they have help to move forward.