RENO, Nev. --
Service members facing behavioral health challenges should feel comfortable asking for help, Defense Department leaders said here this week.
Speaking during Suicide Prevention Month, senior leaders attending the 134th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference urged a continued emphasis on a culture where it is OK to seek help.
Asked about suicide among service members during a question and answer session on Monday, Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff, characterized it as one aspect of a range of health-of-the-force issues.
"The most important thing is about creating an environment, a culture, where people feel comfortable ... that they can come forward and get the help that they need," Odierno said.
The Army has increased its requirements for behavioral health specialists, he said. "We're working very hard to fill those. ... Our nation has a shortage of behavioral health specialists.
"We have to continue to expand the capability to deal with behavioral health issues."
Odierno cited pre-screening, screening in-country and post-screening services among a plethora of programs aimed at helping service members. "We take this issue extremely seriously," he said.
The key is vigilance to identify the signs that a service member may need help and to provide that help that they need, he said.
During remarks on Tuesday, Army Gen. Frank Grass, a fellow member with Odierno of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said people are the priority of the National Guard and the Defense Department.
"Exposure to combat, multiple deployments and personal stress have all contributed to a disturbing rise in issues like post-traumatic stress, unemployment, hopelessness and suicide," Grass said.
"These problems are not self-correcting," he said. "They will not just go away. They require the collective action of leaders across the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs and the private sector."
Grass, who assumed the chief's responsibilities on Sept. 7, pledged his support to National Guard warrior and family programs.
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