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Army chief of staff: COVID-19 having effect on troop suicides

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said Tuesday that he sees a direct correlation between COVID-19 and the rise in troop suicides.

“I am very concerned about the behavioral health impacts of COVID and its effect on our soldiers,” McConville told reporters at the Pentagon.

“Some of the scientists have said they’ve not been able to show causation between COVID and suicide, but I would argue, at least my sense is, it is having an effect because it disconnects people.”

Army leadership has voiced concern about the increase in suicides in its ranks since March, when many people were told to stay home due to the coronavirus pandemic and the Pentagon began to limit movement of forces.

The Associated Press first reported last month that military suicide deaths since early spring were up as much as 20 percent compared with the same period in 2019. Among Army active-duty troops, that increase was around 30 percent, with 114 suicides as of Aug. 31, compared to 88 last year.

July saw the most suicides at 35 – more than one a day.

Following the report’s release, Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and McConville said that the service has moved to improve access to behavioral health care “in the face of additional stress of a pandemic.”

But officials have been hesitant to link COVID-19 to the increase in military members taking their own life. 

Earlier this month, Defense Suicide Prevention Office Director Karin Orvis told reporters that it was too early to make a connection, as suicide counts “do not account for changes in population size or provide enough time for essential investigations to determine cause of death.”

McConville, however, said when looking at the after-action reports of soldiers who have died of suicide, “it tends to be situations where relationships have gone bad, where they start to feel that they don’t belong, that they’re a burden,” a feeling that can be amplified in the time of a pandemic.

With COVID-19, “especially during the beginning part, people were disconnected. The connection might only be a text between a leader and that’s why in some ways we thought it was very, very important to get back to training our soldiers, bringing teams back together to that they can take care of each other,” he added.

Asked if he partly blamed the pandemic-imposed lockdown across much of the country this spring for the rise in soldier suicides, McCarthy, who spoke alongside McConville, said he couldn’t “categorically say that.”

“We’re concerned about the isolation and that’s we’re trying to find effective ways to communicate with each other,” McCarthy said.

McConville, who himself just completed a self-imposed quarantine after possibly being exposed to the illness in a senior level meeting, said he tested negative for the virus multiple times in the past two weeks, including Tuesday morning, and was cleared by doctors to return to the Pentagon.

Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday, meanwhile, chose to do a press event from home at the same time McConville

U.S. Army won’t require Army Combat Fitness Test scores in training

Oct. 7 (UPI) — The U.S. Army will suspend use of its new fitness test as a requirement for graduation from training programs, citing COVID-19 concerns, it said on Wednesday.

A new version of the six-event Army Combat Fitness Test went into effect last week. The Army will encourages taking and passing the strength and fitness test, but the requirement to successfully complete it will be delayed until at least September 2021, the end of the fiscal year, Army officials told Stars and Stripes.

Suspension of the use of the test comes as the Army acknowledged constraints on training and testing due to the quarantining, social distancing and other protections required during COVID-19 pandemic, Megan Reed, spokesperson for the Army’s Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va., told Army Times.

While the test, regarded since Oct. 1 as the Army’s physical test of record, will still be administered, its successful completion is not required to advance from Army enlisted, officer or warrant officer training, Reed said.

The new test supersedes the decades-old, three-event Army Physical Fitness Test. It tests recruits in the deadlift, the standing power throw, pushups, the sprint-drag-carry, the leg tuck and a two-mile run carrying full combat gear.

The change brings fitness test policy for initial trainees in accord with similar fitness policies throughout the Army.

The delay for completion of the new test applies to Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, One Station Unit Training, Warrant Officer Basic Course and the Basic Officer leader course.

While the new test won’t need to be completed, recruits in Basic Combat Training will still be required to pass an obstacle course, hand-to-hand combat training and a 10-mile march, Army officials said.

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An army of doctors. Access to an experimental drug. A special patient gets special care.

Trump’s caregivers are sparing nothing in their attempt to treat his coronavirus infection.

From his team of providers to his helicopter flight to the hospital to the experimental drug that fewer than 10 others have received outside a clinical trial, Trump has access to care available to few of the other 7.3 million people in the United States infected so far by the coronavirus. Even with symptoms that Conley appeared to describe as moderate at worst, the 74-year-old president is the VIP of VIPs in his battle against covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“I think about it as a realist,” said Robert Wachter, professor and chair of the department of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. “He is the president of the United States. For him to get the most vigorous therapies . . . even if we have not yet reached the point where there is enough evidence to make it available to everyone in the country, doesn’t seem off to me.”

“I think access to treatment and frequent monitoring is probably a good thing for evolving medical care of a new disease,” added John W. Mellors, chief of infectious diseases at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

VIP treatment is a feature of American medicine. Major hospitals throughout the country have private spaces for celebrities, the super-rich and the influential, patients who want to be shielded from the public and just may make a large donation if they are happy with their care. They are U.S. citizens and foreign nationals from places including Saudi Arabia, China, Canada and Mexico.

The coronavirus pandemic, in contrast, has featured memorable scenes of community hospitals from New York to Texas nearly overwhelmed by desperately sick people, of doctors and nurses working around-the-clock with insufficient equipment. At least 208,000 people in the United States have died of covid-19, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Trump has been widely criticized for his handling of the pandemic, especially in the early months, when the federal government left states to scramble for face masks, ventilators and other equipment needed by caregivers and patients. That performance is his greatest weakness in next month’s election against his Democratic rival, former vice president Joe Biden, polls show.

In addition to his suite at the military hospital in Bethesda, Md., the most notable advantage Trump enjoys is access to an experimental antibody treatment that has been given to fewer than 10 people under the “compassionate use” program that the president’s doctors employed to obtain the drug from its manufacturer, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. About 2,000 others have received the drug or a placebo because they are enrolled in the company’s clinical trial.

“The VIP treatment around antibodies is ethically troubling and yet there are many, many other things we do to support the president that are different from what you and I get, and we live with it every day,” Wachter said.

The drug has been touted as a potential game-changer by prominent scientists — a way

New Army field manual recommends midday naps

Oct. 1 (UPI) — The Army released a new field manual Thursday that officially embraces midday naps to help improve performance.

The new guide focuses on individual wellness rather than the health of whole units, and it updates the branch’s health and fitness recommendations for the first time since 2012.

In addition to encouraging afternoon napping, the Army plans to shift its hourlong early-morning training sessions to fitness training regimens tailored to individuals.

“This will require physical training to occur throughout the duty day, not just during a one-hour period in the early morning,” said Megan Reed, a spokeswoman for the Center for Initial Military Training at Fort Eustis, Va., which spearheaded the service’s health reform efforts outlined in the new field manual.

The new manual also has chapters on setting goals, visualizing success and “spiritual readiness.”

“We’ve made leaps and strides, by not looking at soldiers as carbon copies of one another, but as individuals. That’s the point of Health and Holistic Fitness,” said Maj. Gen. Lonnie Hibbard, the commander of the CIMT.

The decision to overhaul the Army’s approach to wellness was driven by reports of injuries and other health issues that have placed a drag on soldiers’ performance.

According to Army statistics, more than 58,000 soldiers — the equivalent of 13 brigade teams — were considered nondeployable, with 15,000 of those being considered permanently nondeployable.

In 2018, more than half of American soldiers reported a new injury, and Army medical documents said 71% of soldiers hurt that year were diagnosed with preventable medical injuries caused by overuse.

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Pentagon urges caution in linking steep increase in Army suicides to pandemic

“It’s too early to determine whether suicide rates will increase for calendar year 2020,” said Dr. Karin A. Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, at a briefing that made public the Pentagon’s suicide rates for 2019. “We’ll need to have the full year of data and investigations completed to determine the cause of death.”

“What may be looking like an increasing or decreasing trend in raw counts may not be statistically meaningful once we have all the data,” said Orvis.

Through Aug. 31, there has been a 30% increase in the number of active-duty Army deaths by suicide, with 114 deaths compared to the 88 through that same time frame in 2019, a defense official told ABC News. The total number through Aug. 31 increases to 200 including Army National Guard and Reserve suicides, up from 166 for the same period in 2019, said the official.

The increase in Army suicides was first reported by The Associated Press.

PHOTO: Members of the military attend a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 20, 2019.

Members of the military attend a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 20, 2019.

Members of the military attend a ceremony at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Dec. 20, 2019.

With only a slight increase in the number of active-duty suicides during the first three months of 2020, the bulk of the 30% increase occurred during the spring and summer months that correlates to when the novel coronavirus pandemic was at its peak.

The increase has also translated to an increase in the suicide rate of 36 per 100,000 individuals, through Aug. 3, from 30.6 per 100,000 the year before, according to the official.

But Orvin stressed that the full annual rate is what is needed to make a full assessment of the year’s trends in the military overall. Current numbers for the other services do not indicate a spike like the Army. For example, the 98 total Air Force deaths by suicide this year (including guard, reserves and civilians) are comparable to last year’s, and the 34 active-duty Navy suicides are on pace to be lower than last year. The Marine Corps did not provide current statistics for this year.

“We have seen in the past that at times, where it looks like if we were just looking at counts, there may have been an increase, but once we had the full years of data, it was not statistically significant,” said Orvin.

The Army National Guard said in a separate briefing that the number of suicides in its ranks through Oct. 1 is comparable to last year’s numbers.

“Caution should be used when examining changes

The Army Rolls Out a New Weapon: Strategic Napping

Turns out Beetle Bailey had it right all along.

The loafing comic-strip Army private has been sleeping on duty for 70 years, to the frequent fury of his platoon sergeant. But on Wednesday, the Army released new guidelines for optimal soldier performance — and they include strategic and aggressive napping.

The recommendation is part of an overhaul of the Army’s physical fitness training field manual, which was rebranded this week as the FM 7-22 Holistic Health and Fitness manual. No longer is the guide focused entirely on grueling physical challenges like long ruck marches and pull-ups. Now it has chapters on setting goals, visualizing success, “spiritual readiness” and, yes, the art of the nap.

“Soldiers can use short, infrequent naps to restore wakefulness and promote performance,” the new manual advises. “When routinely available sleep time is difficult to predict, soldiers might take the longest nap possible as frequently as time is available.”

It is the first update to the manual in eight years, and it reflects growing scientific evidence that peak physical performance includes more than just physical training.

“The goal of the Holistic Health and Fitness System is to build physical lethality and mental toughness to win quickly and return home healthy,” the introduction tells readers.

The manual also has updates on running techniques to avoid injury, and a section on the importance of spirituality, with entries on meditation, journaling and how the “act of serving others” helps some soldiers realize the “interconnectedness of all things and people.”

That is a conversation Private Bailey never had with Sarge.

To promote good sleep, the manual warns soldiers to avoid video games, texting and other screen activity before bed, and recommends winding down by “listening to soothing music, reading, or taking a warm shower or bath” instead. It also says to avoid alcohol before sleep.

The new guidance comes as the military has become increasingly aware that chronic sleep deprivation during missions can cripple decision-making and lead to disaster. The Navy recently overhauled sleep schedules at sea after determining that fatigue was a factor in two fatal warship collisions.

During deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanders often failed to prioritize sleep. Changing schedules, long duty shifts and overnight missions led to chronic fatigue that fueled a voracious dependency on energy drinks, which left many troops feeling frazzled. Army research found that soldiers who guzzled energy drinks had higher levels of mental health problems, which can make it harder to deal with the stresses of missions.

“The Army has always had an internal dynamic that real men don’t need sleep and can just push on, and it’s incredibly stupid,” said Lt. Gen. David Barno, who was commander of combined forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005. “Combat is a thinking man’s business and your brain doesn’t function without sleep.”

General Barno said he worked hard to “protect eight hours of sleep a night” while deployed and found that it gave him a clearheaded advantage to accomplish his mission. Putting that practice in