EL PASO, Texas -- At a time when suicides have reached a record high in the army, they are declining at Fort Bliss.
“We absolutely are the lowest in the entire Army,” said Major General Dana Pittard.
The army released suicide numbers for 2012 that showed there were 247 suicides with an additional 78 possible cases under investigation.
At Fort Bliss, there were five suicides in 2012, down from seven in 2011.
Pittard credits a change on post.
“The changing culture of seeking help and destigmatizing seeking help,” Pittard said.
And there’s more help available than ever: from the Wellness Fusion Campus for new soldiers to the Warrior Transition center for returning troops.
“They let you know there's no excuse not to go for help if you need it," said Kim Kerr who serves in the Ohio National Guard with her husband.
“I know after John shot himself that was a real wake up call for a lot of us,” said Matt Kerr. “Now, we take stuff like that a lot more seriously.”
A friend who served in the same National Guard unit committed suicide in 2010 after returning home from deployment. His funeral was the day after their wedding.
In the two years since that suicide and others, Fort Bliss has begun an aggressive prevention campaign that includes embedded behavioral health care teams.
“But on any given day we have between two to four suicide attempts here on Fort Bliss,” said Pittard.
Other army installations have turned to Fort Bliss for suicide prevention strategies, including Fort Hood in Central Texas and Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
The effort by Fort Bliss to build “a culture of seeking help” comes in the middle of a massive expansion.
In 2009 there were 9000 troops, now there are more than 30,000. With families and support staff, the population on post has ballooned to 85,000 people.
Fort Bliss is enlisting the help of troops in reducing suicides. Thirty percent have completed ASIST or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training to detect possible signs of trouble before a solider takes his own life.
The training became mandatory for all new soldiers last September.
From September to early January the post marked 120 days without a preventable solider death including suicides, prescription drug overdoses or vehicle accidents.
“No place in the Army has there been a string like that in recent years,” said Pittard. “Now we’d like that to be 365.”