It’s a number nobody ever wants to see – the U.S. Army had a record-high monthly rate of suicides in July. The numbers from the Army show that there were 38 likely suicides last month alone, up from 24 in June. When you look at those who took their lives on active duty, the number hit 26 – more than double the June total of 12.
Emma Luntey of Dublin is nervous about the figures. Her 19-year old son Patrick is a Navy corpsman who may be deployed to Afghanistan in December.
“I’m always thinking about it, wake up thinking about it,” Luntey said.
The Blue Star Mom volunteer shares her fears with fellow volunteer Luisa Oriti of Lafayette, who is currently president of the non-profit organization’s East Bay Chapter.
Oriti’s 31-year-old son Marco just left to the dangerous Afghan province of Kandahar on Saturday.
“It’s stressful and it puts a strain on their relationships, so a lot of them come back and they’re facing divorce and financial problems because of the divorce, so it’s not just the war," Oriti said.
Command Sergeant Major Patrick McKie said he lost some of his own friends to military suicides. Tears welled up in his eyes when he said, “It’s one of those things that we, I, take very personally, it’s my family. It’s not an easy thing to think that happens and it happens while I’m here. What more could I have done?”
McKie said it’s a question that those at the highest ranks are focusing on more than ever.
“At the highest level we are focused on this. I sit in a lot of briefings and suicide rates are always talked about on how we can actually overcome the issues that we have for these soldiers," McKie said. "It’s really about taking care of one another, that’s what it comes down to.”
So what about programs in place?
McKie said along with mental health counselors and chaplains, the Army has something called the “Comprehensive Soldier Fitness, which deals with a lot with mental toughness and how to cope with diff skills, especially for our younger soldiers.”
The Army has also dedicated this September as “Suicide Prevention Month.”
Blue Star Moms Luntey and Oriti are happy to hear about the efforts, but they stress that the military must help push the environment to one of complete openness. Oriti said the problem is that there’s still a stigma of embarrassment in stepping forward to admit there’s a problem.
For now, the two, along with the 100 other military mothers in their organization around the East Bay, will continue collecting items for care packages to send to men and women serving in the military. Their goal: send out 2,200 care packages in early December – in time for the holidays. Luntey says there’s really nothing more important.
“Above and beyond anything else, they’re our kids. They’re our future. They’re our babies.”