Congressmen Speak Out on Military Suicide Rate

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) goes through the line at the Operation USO Care Package assembly event on Sept. 11 in Washington, D.C. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Seventy members of Congress turned out for an Operation USO Care Package (OUCP) assembly event on September 11 in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C. But putting together the much-appreciated bags of goodness for troops downrange wasn’t the only thing on their minds.

September is Suicide Prevention Month, and with the staggering rise in military suicides in recent years—as of July the Army was on pace for a 200 suicides this year alone—there appears to be an even greater drive to address the issue than ever before. The USO spoke to a few Congressmen who attended the OUCP event about the rising rates of suicide in America’s military ranks. Here are their thoughts:

Rep. Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), founding co-chair of the USO Congressional Caucus

“I am proud that Fort Bliss is leading the way through mental health screening and counseling in the Army. It’s something we want to keep supporting and pushing forward so that not a single military person feels the desperation to have to contemplate committing suicide. Only then can we as a nation say that we’ve done everything we can to support our men and women in uniform and their families, because the solution is going to be to involve the families so they can have that support system.”

Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), member of the USO Congressional Caucus

“The main thing is getting them together with their loved ones. A lot of the suicides are over personal relationships that may have deteriorated while [a service member] is overseas. … There’s a whole host of things. Some of it is a direct result of PTSD and traumatic brain injury. I think we have a responsibility to deal with it. They suffer enough and risk enough when they’re in a combat position, that suffering and risk [should] not continue when they get home. They need to be embraced by their families, their loved ones, their communities and this country.”

If you are a service member or veteran dealing with tough times—or are concerned about a member of the military family in this type of situation—visit the Veterans Crisis Line at veterancrisisline.net or call 1-800-273-8255.

— Eric Brandner, USO Director of Story Development 

It’s a Party When Congress and the USO Get Together to Stuff Care Packages for Troops!

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), (left), and USO volunteer Nancy Lee Fiscus grab items to include in USO care packages. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

Yesterday, members of Congress led Hill staffers, donors, military leadership and other volunteers in stuffing more than 2,000 USO care packages for troops deploying to Afghanistan, Iraq and other overseas locations.

Volunteers move down rows of items as they stuff the packages with care. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Care packages provide items requested by service members, including prepaid international phone cards, toiletry kits with shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush and toothpaste and shaving kits, sunscreen, snacks, refreshments and other entertainment items. Each care package also contains a special message of support from the donor.

Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), (right), and his wife Carolina stuff peanuts and bandages in care packages. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Members of the USO Congressional Caucus in attendance included Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Texas), Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas), Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.): Rep.Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) and Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.). Also present were Annie McChrystal, wife of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Commander, International Security Assistance Force/Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan; Ed Reilly, American Management Association president and chairman of the USO Board of Governors; and senior military leadership and their spouses attended this event.

Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), (center), makes remarks on the importance of Operation Care Package as Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), (left) and USO Board Chairman Ed Reilly listen. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Military spouses (left to right) Dale Rowe (wife of Army Maj. Gen. Richard J. Rowe), Sandee Cartwright (wife of USMC Gen, James E. Cartwright) and Annie McChrystal (wife of Army Gen Stanley A. McChrystal) show off some completed care packages. USO photo by Mike Theiler

Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.) and California National Guard Adjutant Brig. Gen. Mary J. Knight stuffed two bags at a time before handing them to USO volunteers to ship overseas. USO photo by Mike Theiler