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Addressing Mental and Spiritual Health in our Armed Forces

The problem of suicide in our armed forces touches each of us. I'm humbled to write this essay on a subject I know little about. This is how I'm approaching the issue.

Our military is facing an epidemic of suicide. As President of the United States the health and well being of our military members is a priority. The tragic number of deaths affects all of us. Probably every service member who's been around a while has had a friend die by suicide. This is a preventable problem. We will address this situation on several fronts.

First, I want every service member to know they are loved. Second, I want people to know that they are valuable, in uniform or out. Third, I want people to know they can succeed from the inside, no matter what happens on the outside, in uniform or out. Fourth, I want people to know that spiritual health does not mean joining a religion. Fifth, I want people to know and experience that their life, health, and well-being is first on the list each day. Harm's way is second.

As President, I will reduce the operational tempo. But it's important to explain that simply reducing the tempo of operations isn't a fix for suicide. By itself it might even make it worse. If you suddenly have nothing to do, thoughts can sometimes descend. But neither does staying busy all the time fix an underlying problem of mental and spiritual malady. It just keeps you busy. The operational tempo will be reduced because it's the right thing to do strategically for our nation. We will be focused on our nation's defense and well-being rather than continually defending other nations.

Growing in understanding of ourselves and in positive relationships with others is the heart of the solution. The solution has to have a heart. This is about living in purpose today. This is about doing the things today that bring us true joy in living. How do you find that joy? That's up to you and your Higher Power. Speaking of Higher Power, 12 step recovery is something that many of us can participate in. This isn't forced upon anyone. Sure some people get a nudge from the judge that sends them to 12 step meetings. My initiative is to make sure that there are no obstacles to 12 step fellowship meetings.

If this sounds touchy-feely like we're going soft, that's not it at all. Being whole in body and spirit makes us stronger. Emptiness inside doesn't serve anyone. They way that we're going to be filled is by living daily in honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness. Honest people can shoot straighter than dishonest people. Open-minded people can adapt and overcome. Willing people do more. You want a hard life? Try being honest, open-minded, and willing. And when these spiritual principles put the air under your wings, you'll look down at the ground while your soaring, and think, "To succeed tomorrow, I do the same thing I did today."

Now let's get down to business. How do we implement a change that relates to the inner dynamics of every person, man or woman, in our armed forces? This is where the direction of our policy meets the complexity of human nature. Our approach must be guided by principles that are both relatable and implementable, providing a clear direction for those tasked with execution.

I want to say that I'm not an expert in this field. Before I go onto my own list, I want to say that this is something that I need to learn more about. I know that many people are doing tremendous work on the problem of suicide. This brief policy list is to illustrate more about how I'm first approaching this. If something has been done and tried and it didn't work, we're not going to do it again just because. The goal is helping people from one person to another.

Support Systems - Recognize that each service member is part of a team of suicide prevention, and strengthening those who aren't at risk of suicide to understand the signs and actions to take when a service member is at risk of suicide.

Accessibility and Encouragement - Ensure that all resources for mental and spiritual health are easily accessible. This includes physical accessibility on bases and digital accessibility through online platforms. Moreover, we must cultivate an environment where seeking help is not only accepted but encouraged, breaking down the stigmas associated with mental health care.

Collaborative Effort - Mental and spiritual health should not be the sole responsibility of medical personnel or chaplains; it requires the involvement of commanders, peers, and support staff.

Career Protections - a clear understanding that seeking help for suicide prevention, for self or others, doesn't harm a career.

Proactive Outreach and Engagement - prioritizing service member health across the board. This broadly includes health in situations that aren't leading directly to suicide. Prioritizing worker safety across the board gives people a foundation of good will to stand on.

Integration of Spiritual and Cultural Sensitivity - Recognize the diverse spiritual and cultural backgrounds of our service members. Policies should facilitate the availability of a wide range of spiritual and cultural resources, respecting and embracing the diverse beliefs within our armed forces.

These principles are not exhaustive solutions but directional beacons. These will be developed further to guide those tasked with the crucial job of implementation. Dedicated teams within our military structure will amplify the best of these principles and translate them into actionable, effective policies. This is an ongoing process that will continue to grow and develop into a strong tradition in our American spirit.

Together, we can forge this path. Defending our nation is essential. As a service, we will remain ready to be called upon. As individuals we will succeed in fellowship, one service member helping another.

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