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Originally published January 19, 2011 at 8:15 PM | Page modified January 19, 2011 at 8:28 PM

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No suicides among Washington National Guard soldiers in 2010

Bucking a national trend that saw a big spike in suicides among Reserve military forces, the Washington National Guard escaped 2010 without any soldiers taking their own lives.

Seattle Times staff reporter

VA suicide prevention hotline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Bucking a national trend that saw a big spike in suicides among Reserve military forces, the Washington National Guard escaped 2010 without any soldiers taking their own lives.

A state Guard leader says the absence of suicides in 2010 could be attributed to luck. But he also notes that preventing such deaths was a major focus throughout the year.

"We had seven suicides in 2009. That is a horrible number. I took this personally ... and said enough is enough. We need to have a full-on attack on this, and do it month to month," said Col. Mike Johnson, who directs the state Guard's family readiness and support services.

Johnson said the suicide-prevention effort in 2010 included publicizing the telephone number of a Veterans Affairs hotline at every Guard office and armory across the state, addressing the topic in monthly training meetings and also in electronic newsletters.

The state Guard also has tried to find jobs for soldiers who are not on active duty. Returning from Iraq in the summer of 2009, nearly a third of the state Guard's 81st Brigade Combat Team was unemployed, and that could have been a factor helping to drive up the suicide rate that year, according to Johnson.

Since then, the brigade's unemployment rate has dropped to less than 11 percent, according to Johnson.

Nationally, a growing number of suicides by U.S. soldiers during the post- 9/11 era has been a major concern of Army leaders, who have launched their own campaign to try to reduce these deaths. That effort has included hiring more mental-health-care providers and encouraging soldiers to seek out assistance.

Army leaders also hope that other measures, such as increasing the amount of time at home between combat deployments, will help to reduce suicides. According to national statistics released Wednesday, National Guard deaths jumped from 62 in 2009 to 111 in 2010.

Among active-duty soldiers, there was a modest decline in suicides from 162 in 2009 to 156 in 2010. At Joint Base Lewis McChord in Western Washington, nine soldiers took their lives in 2010, with three of them occurring among soldiers serving overseas.

That's the same number of suicides reported by the base in 2009.

"Suicide-prevention efforts are constantly changing and improving, as we learn more about those who may be identified as at risk, said Col. James Terrio, of I Corps, in a statement released Wednesday.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com

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