JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas —
Joint Base San Antonio leaders pledged support for programs and initiatives to reduce suicide among service members and their families, retirees, veterans and Department of Defense civilians in a ceremony held Sept. 3 at the JBSA-Fort Sam Houston Military & Family Readiness Center.
The proclamation was signed by Lt. Gen. Laura Richardson, U.S. Army North (Fifth Army) commander; Rear Adm. Tina Davidson, Navy Medicine Education, Training and Logistics Command commander; Brig. Gen. Laura Lenderman, 502nd Air Base Wing and JBSA commander; Lt. Col. Chad Humphrey, U.S. Marine Corps officer in charge, Wounded Warrior Battalion East, Detachment San Antonio; and Cmdr. Libby Rasmussen, U.S. Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security, Joint Task Force-West.
The Department of Defense and JBSA declared September as Suicide Prevention Month to bring heightened awareness to the complex issue of suicide and to emphasize the resources available in support of active duty service members, military families, veterans, retirees and DOD civilians.
Lenderman pointed out that suicide is a problem that affects everyone: all services, all ranks and all people regardless of age, race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, marital status or sexual orientation.
“On average, more than 800,000 people die annually because of suicide, that’s approximately one person every 40 seconds,” Lenderman said. “And for every person lost to suicide, there are at least six other people affected.”
In 2018, 541 active duty and Reserve component members died by suicide and 2019 is on pace to have the highest number of service member suicide deaths in the last 11 years.
Sabine Ward, JBSA Suicide Prevention Program manager, noted that the motto for Suicide Prevention Month, “Small Steps Save Lives,” as well as the hashtag #BeThere, encourage the JBSA community to step up and take action to prevent suicide.
“While suicide is a topic that is not easy to bring up in conversation, let’s each do our part and make it easier to talk about and, therefore, overcome the stigma associated with suicide,” Ward said.
Capt. Richard Schobitz, Brooke Army Medical Center Department of Behavioral Health deputy chief, stated that there are suicide prevention resources available for those who need help but that it’s a matter of raising awareness within the JBSA community.
“We have great resources here at JBSA,” Schobitz said. “If you get to know the folks who are willing to help, their doors are open. The challenge is getting those in need through those doors.”
Schobitz indicated that risk factors for suicides in the military include relationship issues; financial and physical problems; and social isolation. He believes that everyone in the JBSA community must be engaged in suicide prevention efforts.
The ceremony was also attended by Teresa Bowman, a Gold Star wife, and Kat and Jerry Birdsong, Gold Star parents. Bowman lost her husband, an Army service member, to suicide seven years ago. She read the proclamation aloud before it was signed by JBSA commanders.
“Too many Soldiers and veterans are taking their lives,” Bowman said. “Anything that we can do to prevent that helps me because I don’t want there to be another suicide survivor.”
The Birdsongs lost their daughter, an Army service member, to suicide two years ago. She had been out of the service for less than 90 days.
Kat Birdsong said that she hopes the observance of Suicide Prevention Month will help people focus on listening to service members who are seeking help.
“It creates a dialogue and that’s what we need,” Birdsong said. “It takes the stigma away from suicide. It takes the stigma away from seeking help.”
“Small steps do save lives,” Lenderman said. “If you find yourself or a loved one struggling with issues that seem insurmountable, I encourage you to take that small step, no matter how large it may seem at the time, and ask for help. If you become aware that someone in your life is experiencing difficulty with things, big or small, I encourage you to take that small step and reach out.
“Let them know that they are not alone, that there is help available because at the end of the day, that’s what we have,” the general added. We have each other. Together, we can prevent suicide.”