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Gillibrand: ‘many gaps’ in effort to combat military suicides

Published: Apr. 6, 2022 at 4:38 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said Wednesday that more needs to be done by both the military and congress to reduce the number of suicides in the service.

Gillibrand cited the deaths of three Fort Drum soldiers late last year, who killed themselves within three days of each other. She called their deaths ‘tragic,’ and has sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, telling Austin it’s time to address suicide in the military ‘head on.’

“Active duty troops have experienced significant delays when seeking care from a mental health provider. And in some cases, they’re not able to obtain care at all,” Gillibrand said.

“And when troops transition out of the service, they have not been receiving the uninterrupted mental health care that DoD (Department of Defense) is required to provide. This needs to change.”

Gillibrand called for full implementation of legislation which allows service members to get confidential mental health assessments “without fear of retaliation.”

That fear, plus an ingrained belief in the military that service members shouldn’t need help with their mental health, troubles Gillibrand.

“It is seen as being weak as opposed to being strong to go seek mental health services, to actually want to be tougher and more resilient,” she said.

Gillibrand cited the case of one Special Forces soldier who was suicidal, and self-medicating by using marijuana. Instead of seeing his symptoms for what they were, Gillibrand said, “They punished him, and they demeaned him, and they demoted him, and they put him in terrible situations that further isolated him and undermined his ability to withstand the trauma he was going through.

“That’s a huge problem.”

The young man killed himself.

Gillibrand called for more training for commanders, and much more staffing.

“Right now, the waiting time for seeing a therapist is 28 days,” she noted/

“If you have suicidal ideations, you probably don’t have 28 days.”

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