While the Army Stands Down, Suicide Rates Are Still Up

In this April 12, 2012 photo, Paul Kader II fills out a job application during a career fair in Buffalo, N.Y. The number of p
In this April 12, 2012 photo, Paul Kader II fills out a job application during a career fair in Buffalo, N.Y. The number of people seeking U.S. unemployment benefits was unchanged last week, suggesting steady gains in the job market. The Labor Department said Thursday, May 17, 2012 that weekly unemployment aid applications stayed at a seasonally adjusted 370,000, the same level as the previous week. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, fell for the second straight week, to 375,000. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

Yesterday, against the backdrop of the Army's service-wide stand down for suicide prevention, the Army released its suicide numbers for August.

It's not good news.

They reported 25 potential suicides: 16 among active duty soldiers and nine in the reserve component. So far in 2012, the Army has reported 211 potential suicides among active duty and reserve members -- 211 too many.

The Army-wide suicide stand down, the first since 2009, aimed to familiarize soldiers with health services, suicide prevention and soldier fitness resources available and was part of Suicide Prevention Month. Other commendable efforts focused on reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care and emphasizing that every service member and veteran is responsible for the well-being of the men and women to their left and right.

But combating this critical issue will take a national effort. And for this mission, failure is not an option. We must enlist more dedicated stakeholders to fight this battle.

This month -- from a joint Department of Defense (DoD) and Veteran Affairs (VA) suicide awareness campaign to a White House executive order to today's stand down -- we've seen renewed focus from Washington on mental health and suicide, but we need to see sustained commitment from the government and the country all year round.

With the stakes this high, service members, veterans and their families deserve transparency and accountability. Without comprehensive research and reporting on suicide and mental health status, the "sea of goodwill" cannot step up to effectively support the men and women struggling to transition.

Our nation's newest veterans face many challenges when coming home. These efforts to combat suicide and improve mental healthcare are welcome. However, they are only part of the solution to the challenges veterans face upon returning home.

Obtaining employment and quality education remain big obstacles, as well. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans continue to face higher levels of unemployment compared to civilians -- 10.9 percent as opposed to 8.1 percent in August, according to the BLS.

And Congress isn't being much help, either. In a disappointing move last week, the Senate put politics above progress and failed to pass the Veterans Job Corps Act, legislation that would put thousands of American heroes back to work. Some for-profit schools are also exploiting veterans' education benefits with low-quality education at extremely high costs. Instead of respected degrees, veterans are finding themselves with debt, zero job placement support and useless certifications.

This underlines the fact that just as we need a national effort to win the battle against suicide, we need the same collaboration to surge against veteran unemployment and other challenges facing the New Greatest Generation.

The costs are too high not to act.

To learn more about IAVA's recommendations on these issues and more, please see IAVA's 2012 Policy Agenda.

IAVA has partnered with the Veterans Crisis Line, a VA initiative, to bring resources to events and to provide IAVA's membership with direct and immediate access to mental health professionals. Add the Veterans Crisis Line number to your phone, it only takes a second - 1-800-273-8255, press 1 for veterans. Or text "838255" for support. If you're a veteran, join our discussion at Community of Veterans (COV) to learn more about the partnership and the warning signs of suicide.