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Suicide prevention alliance focuses on troops, veterans

WASHINGTON -- A suicide-prevention task force for service members and veterans has been added to a national alliance that officials hope will help bring more attention to the issues and offer solutions in the future.

Officials with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention last week announced that service members and veterans -- identified as a high-risk group -- were added because of their increased suicide rates.

"Combined with initiatives already underway by the Department of Defense and the (Department of Veterans Affairs), this task force will further strengthen prevention, bringing together the best minds in the public and private sectors," said Secretary of the Army John McHugh, the co-chair of the alliance.

The alliance was launched last year by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, with input and support of many public- and private-sector stakeholders, including the National Council for Suicide Prevention and VA.

Speaking Sept. 10, 2010 at the launch of the alliance, a public-private partnership, Secretary Gates emphasized the importance of a nationwide approach to suicide prevention. The alliance's strategy pools federal and private-sector research and resources to work on addressing the national suicide rate, he said.

"In everything we do, we must remember that every Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine is part, not just of the military, but also a larger community," Secretary Gates said. "Their families, their hometowns, their civilian employers, their places of worship -- all must be involved in the solution."

The military suicide rate has increased steadily over the past five years, exceeding the national average of 11.1 suicides per 100,000 people. The military last year averaged 12.5 suicides per 100,000, according DOD reports.

The leaders of the alliance's Military and Veterans Task Force are Dr. Jan Kemp, the national director of VA's suicide prevention program, and Maggie Haynes, the director of combat stress for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization.

In addition to the task force for service members and veterans, the alliance also established suicide-prevention task forces for other groups it determined are at high risk: American Indians and Alaska natives, and youths who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.