Citing an Increase in Suicides, Leahy and Graham Seek More Support for Guard Soldiers

WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, Jan. 28) – U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the co-chairs of the Senate National Guard Caucus, are urging the U.S. Army to do more to help National Guard troops cope with the stresses of combat.  The call comes with the release of new Army figures showing a large increase in suicides among Guard soldiers over the past year.  The Army’s year-end statistics, released last week, show that confirmed or suspected suicides among National Guard soldiers rose to more than 100 in 2010 — more than double those in 2009.  Leahy and Graham argue that the grim findings reveal that the Army must improve the support it provides for Guard troops.

“These brave men and women – who are not only professional soldiers, but also our neighbors, co-workers, friends and family – have sacrificed so much for us and for our nation,” said Leahy. “Offering them adequate treatment for post-combat wounds – the ones we can see and also the ones we can’t – is the very least they deserve.”

“The stresses accompanying deployments are often times increased with National Guard members because of the lack of access to active duty infrastructure,” said Graham.  “Many of our Guard members come from rural areas without traditional Department of Defense programs available to other military families.  We have never needed the Guard more than we do today.  And quite frankly, the Guard deserves better from our nation in terms of counseling and support than we have provided.”

Graham and Leahy note that since 9/11, the rate of deployment of Guard troops has dramatically increased.  Members of the National Guard face the same dangers and psychological stresses as active-duty troops when they are deployed overseas.  They experience everything from IED blasts, which often cause traumatic brain injury, to combat-related PTSD, to losing their friends in battle – all factors that might drive them to consider suicide.  But unlike their active duty counterparts, Guard troops often live far away from the support of military bases and may not have PTSD or psychological counseling readily available.

While the Army and Marine Corps made progress last year in reducing the number of suicides among active duty service members, the number of suicides among Guard and Reserve soldiers increased.  The senators said the Army must look for ways to improve its mental health support programs for Guard troops and reservists just as it has done for active-duty troops.  Leahy and Graham echoed General Peter Chiarelli, the Army Vice Chief of Staff, who agrees that more must be done to monitor and support Guard and Reserve soldiers, including improving their access to marriage and family counseling and substance-abuse treatment.  Leahy and Graham said the Senate National Guard Caucus will look at these and other ways to make sure Guard troops are receiving all the mental health support they need and deserve.

Graham and Leahy co-chair the Senate’s more than 85-member National Guard Caucus.

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