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Pentagon screens for stress -

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Pentagon screens for stress

John Shovelan reported this story on Wednesday, November 18, 2009 12:31:00

ELEANOR HALL: The Pentagon has responded to the massacre at a US Army base in Texas by launching a
review of all US defence services to screen for staff who are unstable and potentially violent.

Last week 13 people were killed at Fort Hood in Texas when an army psychiatrist is alleged to have
opened fire.

News of the urgent review broke as the Pentagon revealed that soldier suicides this year would set
another record.

In Washington John Shovelan reports.

JOHN SHOVELAN: There is an urgent search getting underway in the US military. It has to quickly
satisfy itself that there aren't other potentially dangerous service members who could repeat the
gruesome massacre at Fort Hood somewhere else.

And more broadly the Pentagon is examining how all the military services keep a watch on potential
problems in their ranks.

The army chief of staff General George Casey announced his own internal investigation with reports
that it would be an investigative panel starting with the Walter Reed military hospital where the
alleged gunman army major Nidal Hassan spent six years and how signs of his instability and
potential violence were missed.

But that investigation now looks like including all the services. The massacre was to have been the
subject of the Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing on Thursday, but the White House has
refused to provide any government officials as witnesses.

The White House has also taken control of the congressional briefings on the massacre with
committee chairs all told briefings would be handled by the President's national Security Council
due to the sensitive and high profile nature of the case.

That case has also thrown a light on mental illness within the US military. Today General Peter
Chiarelli - the army vice chief of staff - released figures showing for the fifth year in a row
suicides in the US army would set a new record.

PETER CHIARELLI: As of 16th November, the army has reported 140 active duty suicides which is
equivalent to our total in 2008 with a month-and-a-half remaining in the year.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Those statistics don't reveal the whole picture. Absent are figures on people after
they have left the military. A congressional research service report last year found that the real
incidence of suicide among veterans just isn't known.

But based on figures from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, Veterans Affairs
estimated that 18 veterans a day - or 6,500 a year - take their lives.

Among active service members the cause of the rising suicide rate is unknown according to General
Chiarelli, with about one-third of the suicides among soldiers who haven't even been deployed to a
combat zone.

PETER CHIARELLI: Over the past eight months, every suicide has been briefed to me. And although we
have made changes to army policy based on many of the lessons learned, we still haven't found any
statistically significant causal linkage that would allow us to effectively predict human
behaviour.

The reality is there is no simple answer. Each suicide case is as unique as the individuals
themselves.

JOHN SHOVELAN: At the beginning of last month the US Army began what it calls a comprehensive
soldier fitness program.

In an era where US troops take multiple tours of duty with minimal breaks at home Brigadier General
Rhonda Cornum says there needed to be a greater emphasis on mental well-being.

RHONDA CORNUM: We have spent a lot of time historically on training physical fitness and technical
excellence in the army, but not psychological fitness. And that all three are really essential in
this era of persistent conflict.

JOHN SHOVELAN: Basic training now includes anti-stress programs as part of a broader effort to help
soldiers deal with the after effects of combat and prevent suicides.

John Shovelan Washington.