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Ten Fort Carson soldiers lost to suicide between May 2021 and May 2022

KRDO

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- According to data provided by the Pentagon, ten active-duty soldiers at Fort Carson have died by suicide between May 2021 and May 2022.

The Mt. Carmel Veterans Service Center tells KRDO, that even if it was one death, it's one death too many and offered insight Wednesday into what barriers our soldiers face.

Roger Johnson, a current counselor at Mt. Carmel is no stranger to the perils of warfare.

He enlisted in 2004 and served 12 years, having five deployments under his belt at a time when conflict peaked in Iraq.

But it was his final deployment that caused him to re-analyze how he could best serve his country.

“It was Thanksgiving week and my Sergeant Major had just passed from a suicide bomber, and I was hurting," he explained. "My girlfriend at the time was sleeping with a bunch of dudes. I was really in a bad place and laying on the bed, crying, thinking to myself, if I am feeling this way, how many other soldiers are, too?”

When Johnson got out, he decided to become a counselor to help bridge the gap of other service members still in, seeking mental health support.

But for many, seeking help is hard for many to come to terms with.

Johnson said the loss of 10 soldiers at Ft. Carson does not surprise him because of the "stigmas that are still in the military about talking about mental health."

“One, people are still under the impression that if they talk they will lose their security clearance," Johnson said. "But I think for most soldiers it's the part about 'I won’t seem as tough.'”

Post 9/11 the Department of Defense (DoD) eased up on active duty troops seeking behavioral treatment.
They are no longer holding a soldier's security clearance over their heads if they sought help.

But active-duty troops still could lose leave time, be un-promotable, or be placed on a 48-hour medical hold if they reveal to a behavioral health specialist thoughts of suicide.

“In a deployed environment you really cannot think about that stuff, 'If I am on a mission there are thousands of other things I have to be attentive to,'" Johnson said. "I can’t be focused on 'oh, so and so passed away yesterday,' or 'oh, we almost got blown up yesterday…', you take those feelings and shove them down and never come back to them - compartmentalize them.”

Data from the Pentagon reveals in 2020 these were the top military installations with the highest rates of active-duty suicides.

The Marine Corps' Camp Lejeune - 21 soldier suicides
Fort Bragg - 21 soldier suicides
Fort Carson - 18 soldier suicides

As far as what is being done in Colorado to address this, last year Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper introduced the Save our Service Members Act, which would direct the DoD to immediately address military suicide rates by evaluating the effectiveness of their suicide prevention efforts and improving data collection.

Thursday, Fort Carson provided KRDO with the following statement:

We agree with Mt. Carmel, one death is too many. Each suicide is a tragic loss of a valuable member of the Army team. At the Mountain Post, we continue to leverage a wide range of resources intended to assist leaders in building cohesive teams, strengthen resilience in our Soldiers, and teach critical skills to those who may be at risk.

Fort Carson spokesperson

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please call the Veterans Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255, Option 1. You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Mental health help is also available by text message at 838255 or through an online chat. All suicide prevention help is available 24/7.

Editors Note: This article previously stated that ten soldiers had died in the first four months of 2022. The information the Pentagon provided stated ten soldiers had died within the last year. We inadvertently reported the suicides occurred within a four-month span.

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Cindy Centofanti

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