WASHINGTON, June 8, 2012 – Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, in an internal memo written last month, addressed the issue of military suicides, calling it one of the most complex and urgent problems facing the department, a Pentagon spokesman said today.
In a briefing with reporters, Navy Capt. John Kirby confirmed the accuracy of numbers in news reports indicating that military suicides have risen 18 percent, from 130 in the period from Jan. 1 to June 3, 2011, to 154 in the same period this year.
“We’ve said for many years now how deeply concerned we are about the tragedy of suicides in the military and we recognize that the numbers are going up,” Kirby said.
“If you just compare this year’s numbers … compared to 10 years ago, they’ve doubled,” he added, “and each one is a tragedy.”
Referring to Panetta’s May 10 memo on suicide prevention for Defense Department personnel, Kirby said the secretary makes clear that suicide prevention is, first and foremost, a leadership responsibility.
“To that end,” Panetta wrote, “leaders throughout the chain of command must actively promote a constructive command climate that fosters cohesion and encourages individuals to reach out for help when needed.”
In the memo, he notes that the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness established a Defense Suicide Prevention Office to serve as the focal point for suicide prevention policy, training and programs.