The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Editorials

April 6, 2014

Lessons from 2nd Fort Hood

Why it matters: We owe it to our military personnel to take the time, compromise on solutions

(Continued)

Clearly, there are efforts that can and should be dealt with immediately.

We need to re-examine at least which personnel can be authorized to carry firearms on base beyond just security personnel. As a compromise, restrictions on civilians could remain but possibly consider allowing highly-trained commissioned and non-commissioned officers to carry side arms and have quick access to other weapons.

Also, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that about three quarters of troops who say that they grapple with mental illness report that they have been doing so long before joining the military. It also found that most suicide attempts by soldiers are not associated with combat experience but pre-enlistment mental health issues.

More must be done to identify problems before enlistment rather than evaluating before deployment as is done now.

There’s also the question of how the military treats mental health, with some accusing the system of over-prescribing medications rather than the longer — and more costly — treatment of counseling and therapy.

Lastly, the regulations prohibiting commanding officers from asking about privately owned weapons at home must be rescinded. Base commanders and other officers — as well as trained enlisted personnel — are key to helping identify those who need help and guiding them to receive it.

The argument that persons bent on suicide will use anything else if guns are not available is preposterous. Public health experts have reported that nine percent of suicide attempts by all methods are fatal but 85 percent of the time attempts made with a gun result in death. And of those who had tried suicide and failed, 89 to 95 percent did not become future victims of suicide, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

With the increase on these isolation incidents and the rise in veteran suicides, how to treat military personnel both pre- and post-service has been difficult and the focus becomes intense only after such shootings. Unfortunately once the spotlight dims, so does the overall effort.

These are people who have signed up to defend us with their lives; surely we can accommodate extraordinary efforts to keep them as safe as possible.

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