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Army's Prescription to Combat Solider Suicides: Christianity

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Monday, 11 May 2009 00:00

A recent edition of the U.S. Army's suicide prevention manual advises military chaplains to promote "religiosity,"- specifically Christianity, as a way to deter distraught soldiers from committing suicide, which in recent months, according to one veterans advocacy group, has reached epidemic proportions.

The Army Suicide Prevention Manual says "Chaplains... need to openly advocate behavioral health as a resource"- to treat suicidal soldiers and instructs behavioral health providers "to openly advocate spirituality and religiosity as resiliency factors."

"Spirituality looks outside of oneself for meaning and provides resiliency for failures in life experiences. Religiosity adds the dimension of a supportive community to help one deal with crises. Both embed themselves in a relationship with God, or a higher power, that provides an everlasting relationship. Bottom line, Soldiers should not base their reason for living in another human being!"- says a slide included in the Army's "Suicide Awareness for Soldiers 2008" PowerPoint presentation.

The inclusion of Christianity and spirituality a new addition to the Army's 2008 suicide prevention manual. A Pentagon spokesman did not return calls for comment. According to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the civil rights organization that sued Gates and the Defense Department over claims of rampant proselytizing in the military, the PowerPoint presentation "is not only an unconstitutional promotion of Christianity for the soldiers who are mandated to attend it, but for the behavioral health providers and non-Christian chaplains who must present it."-

MRFF president and founder Mikey Weinstein said his lawsuit clearly demonstrates "the noxiously unconstitutional pattern and practice of fundamentalist Christian oppression in our U.S. armed forces."-

The U.S. Military is barred from enacting or supporting policies that advance, promote or endorse religion.

During the presentation on combating suicides, a PowerPoint slide advised chaplains that "Soldiers need to take care of each other and rid any thoughts of survival of the fittest. Almost all religions adhere to some form of Christianity's Golden Rule, or the Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant."

This PowerPoint slide includes an image of a group of silhouetted soldiers with one soldier up in the clouds looking at a large cross. In 2007, during a similar presentation, the same image was used but it did not include the image of the cross.

Slides two through four state: "Connectivity to the Divine is fundamental to developing resiliency that allows one to deal with disappointments," "Emphasize the importance of spiritual health, connectivity with a faith community, and a relationship with God," and, for a slide that follows a DVD of former football star Terry Bradshaw talking about his battle with depression, "Terry is very open about his faith in God and his relationship with his church. Spirituality is an invaluable ingredient in his battle with this disease."

In one of the presentation's last slides, the presenter is instructed to have the audience adopt a word rooted in Christian scripture as a "motto or mantra." The talking point for that slide is: "Emphasize the phrase 'that you persevere, that you stay alive.' This is derived from the Greek word 'Hupomeno' which is used in Christian scriptures, particularly in the Pauline epistles. It is also used by James, the bishop of Jerusalem, as Jerusalem was in devastation and about to be destroyed. He wanted all Christians, despite the persecutions and violent times, to not lose hope, to keep on enduring. Encourage the audience to repeat this word and use it as a motto or mantra when in difficult times."

Last year, in a stunning admission, top officials at the Veterans Health Administration confirmed that the agency's own statistics show that an average of 126 veterans per week -- 6,552 veterans per year -- commit suicide, according to an internal email distributed to several VA officials.

Brig. Gen. Michael J. Kussman, the undersecretary for health at the VA, sent the e-mail, dated Dec. 15, 2007. Kussman had inquired about the accuracy of a news report published that month claiming the suicide rate among veterans was 18 per day.

"McClatchy [Newspapers] alleges that 18 veterans kill themselves everyday and this is confirmed by the VA's own statistics,"- Kussman wrote. "Is that true? Sounds awful but if one is considering 24 million veterans."-

In an e-mail response to Kussman, Ira Katz, the head of mental health at the VA, confirmed the statistics and added "VA's own data demonstrate 4-5 suicides per day among those who receive care from us."-

Weinstein has tried to reach out to President Obama in hopes of communicating the urgent nature of the matter, but he said administration officials are "unapproachable."-

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Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor of Truthout.org and the founding editor of the online investigative news magazine The Public Record, http://www.pubrecord.org. He is the author of the National Bestseller, "News Junkie," a memoir. Visit (more...)
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