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After soldier suicides, Gillibrand calls for more mental health help

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 2:11 PM EDT
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FORT DRUM, New York (WWNY) - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand call Thursday for expanded access to mental health services for active duty service members.

That, after three Fort Drum soldiers - a 21, 24 and 26 year old - apparently committed suicide earlier this month.

“We must do more to increase access to mental health support,” Gillibrand - a U.S. Senator from New York - said in a call with reporters.

Gillibrand said she is pushing legislation that would expand access to mental health services, including access to confidential mental health evaluation referrals without fear of retaliation.

Gillibrand said Fort Drum officials told her two of the apparent suicides were related to relationship issues.

“If we are having chronic relationship strain, well maybe there’s some things the DoD (Department of Defense) could be doing to alleviate that,” she said

“It might be related to resources and money; it might be related to spouses not being about to find employment. It might be related to the conditions of their housing.”

Gillibrand is also sending a letter to Department of Defense officials asking for details on the Department’s actions to address marital stress.

She also believes the war in Afghanistan, with the “acute stress and toll” of repeated deployments, and the war’s abrupt end, is wearing on Fort Drum’s soldiers.

“Even though it (the withdrawal from Afghanistan) was just a shorter term deployment of a few weeks, it felt like a six, eight, 10 month deployment. That’s concerning because it was so intense for them,” she said.

At least one of the three apparent suicides was just back from Afghanistan, but Drum officials don’t believe his deployment was the primary reason for his death.

Gillibrand said she is waiting for the release of the annual Department of Defense report on suicides in the military.

She expects it will show “we are not making progress.”

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