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National Suicide Prevention Lifeline


Are you in crisis? Please call 1-800-273-TALK

Are you feeling desperate, alone or hopeless? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), a free, 24-hour hotline available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Your call will be routed to the nearest crisis center to you.
  • Call for yourself or someone you care about
  • Free and confidential
  • A network of more than 140 crisis centers nationwide
  • Available 24/7


VA Starts Suicide Prevention Chat Room

September 01, 2009

Military.com|by Bryant Jordan

The Veterans Administration has gone online with a "chat room" for possibly suicidal vets who may prefer reaching out for help via the Internet rather than in person or by phone.
"Veterans Chat," said Dr. Gerald Cross, the VA's acting undersecretary for health, is intended to reach veterans who may or may not already be enrolled in the VA health care system, and provide them with online access to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
The chat service provides one-on-one counseling, and may also be accessed by family members and friends, according to the announcement.
“It is meant to provide Veterans with an anonymous way to access VA’s suicide prevention services," Cross said in an official announcement of the chat service.
The chat room has been established even as the VA has come under fire over a booklet that some allege is intended to influence veterans to take their own lives if they become very sick.
Some veterans groups have hit back at the charges as attempts by anti-Obama administration critics to spread fear among vets.
The chat service is only the latest program the VA has implemented to combat suicide among vets.
The VA began operating a suicide-prevention telephone hotline in 2007, VA spokeswoman Katie Roberts told
Military.com recently. Since then it has fielded more than 150,000 calls from veterans, their family members and even active-duty troops.
She said nearly 3,400 of the hotline's callers were convinced not to take their own life..
With the new chat service, vets can go online anonymously at
www.suicidepreventi onlifeline. org to chat with a trained VA counselor, he said. If the vet is determined to be in a crisis, the counselor can immediately transfer him or her to the Suicide Prevention Hotline for additional counseling and crisis intervention.
Once on the Web site, veterans reach the chat service via a tab on the left for "Veterans" and from there to "Veterans Resource Locator." The chat tab is on the right of that page; the page also includes the hotline phone number -- 1-800-273-TALK.
Vets enter an alias upon going into the chat room in order to remain anonymous. A counselor then comes online to provide information and respond to any requests or concerns the vet has, according to the VA announcement.
A counselor who determines that a vet is in crisis will encourage the vet to call the hotline, where a trained suicide prevention counselor will take over.
The pilot chat service began July 3 and has already had positive results, the VA said.
In one instance, the online counselor convinced a vet at risk to give him a home telephone number, and then remained in the chat room with the vet while the hotline staff called the number and talked to the veteran's mother.
The two were able to convince the veteran to be admitted to a medical facility for further treatment, the VA said.
Dr. Janet Kemp, VA’s National Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the VA Medical Center in Canandaigua, N.Y., said the chat service is not intended to be a crisis response line.
But, she said: “Chat responders are trained in an intervention method specifically developed for the chat line to assist people with emotional distress and concerns. We have procedures they can use to transfer chatters in crisis to the hotline for more immediate assistance.”



THIS IS AN ARTICLE WRITTEN BY:  Dr. Michael Blumenfield M.D. on December 23, 2009


There is No  Presidential Condolence if a Soldier Commits Suicide


If an American soldier is wounded and then dies or is killed immediately in Iraq or Afghanistan,  the President of the United States and The Secretary of Defense write a condolence letter to the family. However, if an American soldier is wounded physically and /or psychologically during his action in Iraq or Afghanistan and then commits suicide there is no letter of condolence written to his or her family by the President and the Secretary of Defense.

There are now more suicides among our combat troops than all those killed by enemy fire in Iraq and Afghanistan together according to a recent CNN Report on this topic. There have been 354 suicides thus far in the year 2009 which is more than the 335 total of combat deaths which occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan combined . While most of the suicides don’t occur until the soldiers have returned to the states at least one third have taken place in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army and the National Institute of Mental Health are partnering to assess risk and resilience in service members in an epidemiologic study of mental health, psychological resilience, suicide risk, suicide-related behaviors, and suicide deaths. While this is quite important, it does not address the failure of our leaders to knowledge the sacrifice of those psychologically injured soldiers who commit  suicide. This is a serious defect in our moral fabric.

While Presidents since Lincoln have been writing letters of condolence to families, there is apparently unwritten policy that this does not include families of soldiers who have committed suicide.


It is easy to imagine how hurtful that must be to a family who is burying a son or daughter who came back from war with psychological problems and then committed suicide or perhaps killed themselves while still overseas. The New York Times recently wrote a story about one such family. After Gregg and Janet Keesling’s son, Chancellor, killed himself in Iraq in June, the family received a folded flag, a letter from the Army praising their son, a 21-gun salute at his burial and financial death benefits, but not a letter of condolence from President Obama.

A spokesperson for President Obama said that the policy in regard to who should receive a letter of condolence is currently undergoing a review.


What is Going on Here?

I heard one report state that many soldiers would feel that their comrades combat death would be somehow demeaned if the families of soldiers who suicided were given an equal letter of condolence. Another view is that treating suicide the same as other war deaths might encourage mentally frail soldiers to take their lives by making the act seem honorable. These ideas may be influencing the thinking of some our military leaders and perhaps the President. I hope not.

If this is the case it is misguided thinking which resurrects the stigmatization of mental illness. These conditions are not something that anyone chooses to have. This includes depression, post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury all of which can be secondary to combat experiences.  


Soldiers cannot will themselves to avoid these conditions anymore than a soldier can avoid a bullet aimed at their head or an explosive device that goes off under their vehicle.  While training and good support can reduce the odds somewhat but once you are in a combat zone you are vulnerable to injury. I also know of no evidence that people on the verge of suicide would be driven to do it because their family would get a letter of condolence.

There is a famous cartoon which shows a therapist giving a patient a large slap in the face while saying “Snap out of it”  and the title of the cartoon is “One Session Therapy”. If there is humor in this, it is because some people have the phantasy that it is that easy to put aside psychological injury. Anyone with knowledge about mental illness and clinical experience knows that it is not true.

A soldier who suffers to the point of  ending his or her own life, has to be recognized as someone who has suffered as much as anyone can imagine.

As far as the idea that some deaths deserve a letter of condolence and some don’t, consider this. If a soldier in Iraq is working in the kitchen and the stove catches fire leading to his demise, would this death be any less deserving of a letter of condolence than a soldier who was caught in an enemy ambush? Would the loss be any less deserving of the latter soldier if it turned out that he made a foolish tactical error leading to his being killed as compared to someone who was brave enough to fall on a grenade to save others lives? Of course not. Similarly, would you compare a soldier who faced many horrific combat situations and developed PTSD with another soldier who became severely depressed shortly after his  plane just  touched down in the combat zone if both ended up having intolerable suicidal feelings which led to their death? Would one family be deserving of a letter of condolence and another not? I don’t believe that we judge some soldiers deaths as being more worthy than others.

Yes, we do give out special medals and recognition  for unusual acts of bravery but these in no way diminish the sacrifice that others have made.



They Are All Heros

They Are All Heroes



All of the soldiers that we have discussed above would have volunteered to serve in the military and today everyone knows that this most likely could mean exposure to combat. For this they deserve our thanks and when they and their families have made the supreme sacrifice they deserve at least a letter of condolence.

Action to Fix This Situation

What can we do to see that the families of soldiers who have suicided be given the same letter of condolence as families of other soldiers who have died in the military?

We can a write a letter to the President of the United States, Secretary of Defense and our Congressperson and US Senator. Those of you who are mental health professionals should clearly state this in such correspondence and explain how you feel about this situation especially based on your understanding of mental illness. The email address to write to the President is :       president@whitehouse.gov       There is every indication your email would be read by his staff and a sample of them are often shown to the President.  If many of the readers of this blog were to write him a note it is bound to make an impression as this issue is under consideration by the President at present. If you would like some tips on how to write to the President I found this brief article .

We should also ask our professional organizations if they have not done so already to weigh in on this matter. I am writing a letter to my colleague Dr. Alan Schatzberg, President of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), requesting him to consider asking the Board of Trustees to pass such a resolution if this has already not been done. This last November I finished my term as Past Speaker of the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association and left the Assembly. So while I cannot sponsor such a resolution myself anymore,  I will ask my former colleagues there to also consider doing so . Both the Board of Trustees and the Assembly must approve position statements in the APA. I would hope that once this organization takes it on they will be able enlist the support of our colleagues in the American Medical Association as well as other professional groups.

By all indications President Obama is a compassionate person and I believe that once he has the facts and has heard from the public including mental health professionals, he will do the right thing.


THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY: Jeff Mason on December 9, 2009


  White House reviewing policy on military suicide letters

WASHINGTON | Wed Dec 9, 2009 5:47pm EST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration is reviewing a policy in which the president does not send letters of condolence to families of military personnel who commit suicide, the White House said on Wednesday.

"That review is ongoing," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told a briefing. "Hopefully, we can ... conclude this review shortly."

The president currently writes letters of condolence to men and women who are killed during their service to the U.S. armed forces, but suicides are not covered.

Suicides in the U.S. Army will hit a new high this year, a top general said in November, shortly before President Barack Obama announced his decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason, Editing by Sandra Maler)





THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY: Chad Pergram in December 23, 2009



Lawmakers Ask Obama to Offer Condolences to Families of Military Suicides

A bipartisan coalition of 44 House members is asking President Obama to begin sending condolence letters to the families of military service personnel who commit suicide.

Reps. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., initiated the effort. In a letter sent Wednesday to Obama, Kennedy and Burton asked Obama to overturn the policy. The White House says the practice is under review.

"By overturning this policy on letters of condolence to the families of suicide victims, you can send a strong signal that you will not tolerate a culture in our Armed Forces that discriminates against those with a mental illness," the congressmen wrote. 

They added that some don't believe those who take their own lives deserve the same recognition "as one who dies fighting the enemy," in part because it could undermine troop morale.

Calling it a suicide epidemic, the lawmakers noted that in 2008, 140 active duty personnel committed suicide and most expect 2009 to exceed that grim record.  The Department of Defense has launched a campaign to reduce suicides adding mental health servies and trying to reduce "the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

But the lawmakers also wrote that the current policy of not sending condolence letters "contradicts current military policy on funerals."

"The Department of Defense already provides service members who commit suicide a full military burial, complete with a flag-draped coffin and a 21 gun salute. We have not heard of any reports that military morale and discipline have waned as a result."

For his part, Burton took up the cause after a constituent killed himself while doing a second tour in Iraq. The soldier's parents learned that they would not get a letter from the president because their son took his own life.

"A presidential letter of condolence is as much about respect for the personal loss that a family experiences as it is about an acknowledgment by our nation that we have lost a soldier. Whether a soldier died in combat, in a car accident, or because of suicide, nothing diminishes the personal sacrifices each family endured on our country's behalf, while their son or daughter, husband or wife, served in uniform," they wrote.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.



THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY: Melissa Healey on October 12, 2010


Mental health groups call on President Obama to recognize military personnel who commit suicide

The American Psychiatric Assn. on Tuesday urged President Obama to reverse a long-standing policy of withholding condolence letters to the families of U.S. servicemen and women who commit suicide.

"A reversal of this policy to allow condolence letters to family members will not only help to honor the contributions and lives of these servicemen and women, but will also send a message that discriminating against those with
mental illness is not acceptable," said Dr. Carol A. Bernstein, president of the nation's leading organization of psychiatric specialists.

The APA's appeal comes amid an escalating suicide crisis within the armed forces. A recent surge of suicides among
U.S. military personnel has punctuated already record suicide rates over the last five years within the ranks of U.S. service members returning from  Iraq and Afghanistan. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, recently predicted that the mental health emergency among those who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan is far from over: With the return home of thousands of U.S. troops after multiple deployments, "I think we are going to see significant increases in the challenges we have in terms of our families," Mullen told reporters recently.

In an effort to persuade service members to seek help for emotional problems, the military has been struggling to remove the stigma that psychiatric care has long held within the ranks of the armed forces. In calling for the recognition at the highest level, the American Psychiatric Assn. appears to be pressing the military to do more to de-stigmatize those who seek help for mental illness.

Under current policy, military members who commit suicide receive full military honors as they are laid to rest. But unlike the families of service members who are killed in combat or who die in war zones, survivors of military suicides do not receive a condolence letter from the president.

Nowhere are suicide rates higher than among 
Army personnel. In 2009, the Army reported 160 suicides among its active-duty soldiers, a hike from the 2008 rate of 140. Once every 36 hours, a member of the armed forces commits suicide, according to the Department of Defense, and the numbers of suicides among active-duty personnel has reached record levels in every branch of the armed services.

Joining the APA in calling for a reversal of the policy are the
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health America. Collectively, the groups are gathering signatures to send a petition to Obama, who said last November that he was considering a shift in policy.

-- Melissa Healy/
Los Angeles Times



Marine Who Campaigned For Veterans Takes His Own Life


 Like the Marine he was, Clay Hunt launched a front-line assault against the demons he brought home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The 28-year-old Texan, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, appeared in a suicide prevention campaign encouraging returning veterans to reach out for help. He went to Washington, D.C., to speak out for veterans' rights. He also built bikes for a rehabilitation program for injured vets and traveled to disaster-ravaged countries to provide humanitarian aid.

   But the Purple Heart recipient, a veteran of two wars, lost his most important battle last week when he died alone, in his apartment near Houston, Texas, of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His memorial service this week drew more than 1,100 mourners, including veterans from across the country.
    "Clay struggled to deal with the war that we all fought. He needed us as much in peace as he did in combat," his best friend, fellow Marine veteran Jake Wood, who delivered the eulogy, said. "Let us learn a hard lesson from this - that some of us are still fighting the war, even though we're home and out of uniform."


    Hunt's family remembered him as a boy who loved to play football, read and collect turtles, the Houston Chronicle reported in a story yesterday. He was about to transfer to his dream school, Texas A&M, when he decided instead to enlist in the Marine Corps infantry in May 2005. He was deployed to Iraq in January 2007. Within a period of a few weeks, two of Hunt's friends from his company were killed. Shortly thereafter, Hunt was sent back to the United States after a sniper's bullet tore through his left wrist. The shot barely missed his head which, at that moment, was resting on his hand.


    "I would've thought you'd feel like the luckiest guy on the Earth that you got shot and they missed your head, but that's not how he felt," his father, Stacy Hunt, said. "He felt he didn't deserve it."


    After his rehabilitation, Hunt went to Marine sniper school and was deployed again, this time as a Marine Scout Sniper to Afghanistan. There, two more friends were killed, his parents said.


    Hunt left the Marines in 2009, honorably discharged. He put his Purple Heart and other medals along with pictures of his four slain Marine friends in a shadow box, a gift from his mother. "Every day he looked at that and thought of his guys," his mother said.


    As Hunt fell into despair in the months after his discharge, he dropped out of college and his marriage fell apart. But he found new hope by reaching out to other veterans, appearing in the award-winning public service announcement by the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He helped build bikes for the group's Ride 2 Recovery. And he joined the non-profit group Team Rubicon, formed by Wood, which uses the talents of military veterans to provide humanitarian aid during disasters. Last February, Hunt went with the group to Haiti and later wrote about his work on the group's Web site. "On a personal level, I found more in Port-au-Prince than I knew I was missing," he wrote. "I cannot tell you how good it feels to be able to go into a rubble-strewn city in a Third World country, and to be able to do good without wondering if everybody is about to start shooting at you. I found a renewed sense of purpose for myself that has been missing since I separated from the USMC, and I found myself in the company of a band of brothers once again - absolutely priceless."

    His family and friends hoped Hunt was finding peace. But on March 31, when he didn't show up for work or answer his phone, his mother drove to his apartment. There, emergency crews found his body. "I remember sliding down the wall and just sitting there and pressing my back to the wall as hard as I could because I thought this is as close as I'll ever be to him again," she said "I can't hug him. I can't kiss him. I can't say 'I love ya.' I can't touch him again." . 

    His friend Wood described Hunt as a man who wanted to change the world. "He was always looking for an outlet to help," Wood wrote on the Team Rubicon blog. "The world just didn't want to come along at his pace."








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