The 18th Airborne Corps is testing a policy that would prevent soldiers from being released from inpatient mental health facilities on holidays or weekends, Army unit leaders said.
The policy is designed to better support a soldier’s recovery effort and help prevent suicide attempts, the command sergeant said. Maj. TJ Holland, the head of the enlisted corps. It also includes a contract about what the soldier, the soldier’s leaders, and the medical provider are responsible for when the soldier is released.
“What we’ve seen when we release a soldier before a weekend or vacation is that they go back to the isolation area and they start to review those thoughts and practice the same behaviors that brought them in the dark before asking for help,” he said. .
The policy is one of two coming to the corps that aims to ensure soldiers who have been hospitalized with suicidal ideation are supported as they reintegrate into their daily lives, Holland said.
A second requirement will require every soldier to attend a reintegration event within 24 hours of being discharged from a hospital. The event can be anything the soldier likes to do, such as a cooking class or another activity the person considers important to them.
“We need to find out what drives this soldier to serve and why he loves life. Those are the things we should be looking for when it comes to a reintegration event,” Holland said.
The proposed policies come after the military spent years struggling with a rising rate of suicide deaths among its troops amid outcry from members of Congress and others. The Department of Defense has spent millions of dollars in recent years in multiple efforts to try to understand what drives service members to hurt or kill themselves. The department has taken steps to increase troops’ access to mental health professionals, address the longstanding stigma that asking for help is a sign of weakness, and better train its troops in firearms safety. fire, defense officials said.
Among the efforts, the Pentagon has been mandated by Congress to create an independent review panel to study the matter. The committee began its work in May and is expected to produce a full report on military suicide by February.
Since 2018, the Department of Defense has been required to release an annual report on military suicide to better understand the extent of casualties and document prevention efforts.
The latest annual report was released last week and showed the military’s efforts to prevent suicides within its ranks stalled last year as other service branches saw a decline in self-inflicted deaths.
The Pentagon reported an active duty suicide rate of about 24 suicide deaths per 100,000 military personnel in 2021, compared to about 29 self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 military personnel in 2020. But the Army’s rate remained at around 36 deaths per 100,000 soldiers, which is the same as in 2020, according to the annual report.
The new policies being tested by the 18th Airborne Corps will impact approximately 92,000 soldiers who are assigned to the unit at 13 installations.
“What I want to do is create an environment where leaders recognize their responsibility — my responsibility — that I have to take care of my soldiers,” Holland said. “I feel very passionately and strongly that we are going to impact the lives of many soldiers. We are going to embark on prevention.
If a soldier misses an appointment and cannot be reached, Holland said the unit will use an Army policy change made in 2020 to begin efforts to quickly locate the soldier. The change was enacted alongside the December 2020 release of Fort Hood’s Independent Review Board report which found there were no established procedures for frontline supervisors when a soldier fails to report. not.
Former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy named the committee after Fort Hood SPC Soldier. Vanessa Guillen disappeared in April 2020 and was found dead more than two months later.
“It was obvious to the [committee] this [noncommissioned officers] had little guidance on how to handle — or even what facts should be considered — “suspicious circumstances,” according to the committee’s report.
The committee reviewed several cases for its report, including that of Sgt. Elder Fernandes, who was released from the Fort Hood Inpatient Program for suicidal ideation in August 2020 and died by suicide less than a week later.
Upon his release from the hospital, a member of his unit left him on the doorstep of a friend’s house and he was never seen alive again. While the unit had made a few attempts to reach Fernandes, it was 48 hours later that officers from the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division were contacted.
The Army’s missing persons policy now focuses on the intervention of law enforcement within the first 48 hours to reach soldiers who may be injured.
sergeant. Army Maj. Michael Grinston tasked Holland in June with looking at how to improve policy regarding the time soldiers are released from inpatient mental health care after statistics showed the propensity for self-harm may increase during this period. Holland said he presented his plan to Grinston in August as part of a monthly meeting of senior Army sergeant majors to discuss preventing harmful behavior.
As the body tests these changes, Grinston said he is watching to see if it reduces suicides and improves the environment for soldiers.
“That’s the advantage of our monthly meetings on prevention: we can try something and if it works, try somewhere else. Then we really have a strong case for implementing the military,” Grinston said.
To advance the policy on discharge dates, Holland said he was coordinating with the Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and the Defense Health Agency, which operates military hospitals. For soldiers who are being treated at off-base facilities, Womack has agreed to pay to extend their stay if a release date falls before a weekend or holiday, he said.
Craig Bryan is a clinical psychologist and Air Force veteran whose book “Rethinking Suicide: Why Prevention Fails and How We Can Do Better” has been used by senior military leaders to help shape changes in prevention efforts. He said the time after a person is discharged from hospital is a critical time for the person’s recovery.
“The month immediately following a patient’s discharge from hospital is actually the highest suicide risk period for anyone involved in the health care system. The risk of suicide is 100 to 300 times higher during the first month after discharge. The first seven days matter the most,” Bryan told a sergeant commanders conference at a June meeting of senior Army enlistees.
The moment a soldier is discharged from a hospital, Holland said there will now be a signed contract that outlines responsibility for ensuring “every supporting element is transferred” with the soldier. Follow-up appointments with their care provider will be scheduled within 24 hours of discharge from hospital and again approximately 10 days after.
Fort Campbell, Ky., which is under the command of the 18th Airborne Corps, already has a policy in place not to release soldiers until a holiday or weekend. The reintegration event policy will be new to other corps units. For that, Holland said he needed to make sure units could access existing funding through Army recreation programs.
The corps now has two soldiers who are receiving care in hospital facilities and Holland said they will test policy changes with those soldiers as they are released.
From there, Grinston said he’s watching for a “positive effect” in determining how and when to implement the policies across the military.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, dial 988, then press 1 for the Military and Veterans Hotline, or text 838255.
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