Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Friday outlined what he called four “pillars” of a strategy to end this year’s rash of military suicides.
Panetta, speaking in Washington to the annual Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention conference, said there were “no easy answers, no simple solutions, no quick fixes” to the problem of suicide.
“But that doesn’t mean we can’t do more to prevent it from happening,” he said in prepared remarks.
The annual conference, which ended Friday, took place as the military saw suicides averaging roughly one per day over the first half of 2012 — a figure roughly double the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan over the same period.
Panetta identified the four pillars of his program for tackling suicide as leadership; improving health care quality and access; elevating mental fitness to the importance of physical fitness; and increasing research into suicide prevention.
“Like almost every issue in our military, progress on suicide prevention depends on leadership,” he said. “I have made clear that this issue is first and foremost a leadership responsibility.” Everyone in authority, from commanders to junior officers and non-commissioned officers, he said, must be more aggressive in encouraging their subordinates to get help when needed.