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Promoting resiliency: Secretary of the Army visits JBLM

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The news conference was about cause and effect.

On Monday, John McHugh, the 21st Secretary of the Army, signed a memorandum at Joint Base Lewis-McChord ordering the development of an Army-wide Ready and Resilient Campaign Plan to standardize and synchronize support programs.

The campaign is one part of the Army's attempt to reverse a troubling rise in Soldier suicides.  Last year, 182 active duty Soldiers killed themselves, up from 165 in 2011.

Joining McHugh for the signing were Lt. Gen. Robert Brown, commanding general, I Corps and Maj. Gen. Stephen Lanza, commanding general, 7th Infantry Division.

"Taking care of soldiers, it's not just something that we feel is important operationally.  It is something that we feel is a moral imperative," the secretary stressed during this third visit to JBLM.

His new guidance directs the Army to place resiliency counselors within units, to develop programs that encourage healthy lifestyles and coordinate resources so Soldiers needing help can turn to a "one stop shop" for assistance.

Commanders will have "a consistency of understanding of what is available, when it's available, when it's applicable across the service," McHugh explained.

"We really do believe this is an important step in providing a holistic, collaborative and coherent enterprise."

McHugh pointed out that the Madigan Army Medical Center (MAMC) behavioral health investigations - triggered by the misuse of forensic psychiatry teams in diagnosing post-traumatic stress disorder - caused a broader review of Army PTSD diagnosis protocols. 

Hence the move to resiliency training.

Both the local MAMC report and the nationwide Army Behavioral Health Task Force investigation are finished, but when questioned about it McHugh would not discuss them in detail or give any idea as to when their contents would be released to the press.

"Justice was done," McHugh said in reference to the Madigan investigation.  He said that the Army-wide review led to 24 findings and 47 recommendations that he would implement.

Sen. Patty Murray, (D) WA, who brought forward complaints about MAMC's forensic psychiatry program to the Pentagon, spoke to McHugh on Monday about the resiliency program and urged him to put it into action.

"We cannot allow those who have served or their loved ones to be dragged through a system that leaves them with more questions than answers,
she said in a news release.

In recent years, JBLM has created a suicide prevention task force that seeks to intervene as soon as possible when Soldiers show signs of risk.

The installation has held a "stand-down" event that allowed units to walk throughout the base to familiarize themselves with JBLM's behavioral health services.

Psychologists and social workers have been assigned to various combat units to help behavioral health experts break down barriers for Soldiers who want help.

Brown nodded his head in agreement.

"There is a stigma in society about reaching out for help," he said.  "We are working very hard to get rid of it and help Soldiers, and the Army is leading the way in this."

McHugh concluded his remarks by adding that the Department of Veteran Affairs is also working with the Army to "iron out the seams of the continuing the care" once a Soldier leaves active duty.

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