News

Taps Reaches Out To Military Families Experiencing The Death Of A Loved One By Suicide

For Immediate Release                                  
February 5, 2009
Respected national organization providing comfort and care to bereaved military families since 1994 steps up efforts to support suicide survivors, calls on the American public for support

WASHINGTON – Over the last year, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) has experienced a 300% increase in the number of families seeking comfort and support following the suicide of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces.

“Battles waged on the field of combat haunt those returning to the homefront.  TAPS has seen a tragic increase in the number of families whose loved ones lost their very personal battles, fighting a war within, “ said Bonnie Carroll, founder and chairman of TAPS. “We embrace these families with a wide array of programs offering comfort and care, while also offering a prevention program for battle buddies coping with the death of a fellow service member.”

Over the past year, TAPS has seen an increase of 25% in calls from survivors of suicide to its crisis line, which is answered 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. In January 2009, 21 new families turned to TAPS due to suicide. In January 2007, the organization reports 7 new families called for help due to suicide loss.

However, Carroll noted that the true number of families turning to the organization for help due to suicide is likely higher. Because TAPS accepts anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one who served in the Armed Forces, regardless of circumstance of death, and does not require families to specify a cause of death to receive services, its records are at times incomplete. Many families opt to tell others it was a “death due to non-hostile action,” because admitting that a loved one has died due to suicide is often difficult and painful for families.

Today, the Army announced an alarming spike in the number of suicides in January 2009. The Army reported 24 suspected suicides in January 2009, 5 suicides in January 2008, 6 suicides in January 2007 and 10 in January 2006, according to the Associated Press. In 2008, the Army reported a total of 128 confirmed suicides, and 15 suspected suicides under pending investigation.

Carroll noted that the figures released by the Army may not include suicides that occur more than 120 days after a service member is discharged from the military. They also do not include suicides occurring among National Guard or Reserve military personnel who are not in an active duty status.  Yet these are all families who turn to TAPS for support and help.

“Many of these families, unfairly, feel shame,” said Carroll. “Their loved one served our country with honor, but sustained deep wounds that could not be physically seen. It is a horrific burden that these families carry, and TAPS is doing all we can to help them.”

Surviving families receive information within 24 hours of calling TAPS, which includes specialized resources related to suicide, if they indicate it as the cause of death. TAPS also offers support from a trained peer mentor who has also suffered a loss to suicide in the military, connections to counseling services and support groups in their community, locations and contact information for TAPS Care Groups that meet regularly around the country, online communities and Internet chats for survivors, and case management assistance while working with the military.

To respond to the growing crisis, TAPS is strengthening its peer-based emotional support programs for survivors of suicide.  Two survivors of suicide recently began coordinating the TAPS peer support program specifically for survivors of suicide: Kim Ruocco, has a master’s degree in social work and is the surviving spouse of US Marine Corps Major John Ruocco, a Cobra helicopter pilot who completed suicide in 2005 following his service in Iraq, and Carla Stumpf-Patton,  surviving spouse of US Marine Corps Sergeant  Richard E. Stumpf, a Gulf War veteran and combat drill instructor who committed suicide in 1994.

Surviving families are welcome to attend the 24 Regional Survivor Seminars and Good Grief Camps the organization holds throughout the country. Workshops  designed specifically to help survivors of suicide will be offered at the 15th Annual TAPS National Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp, which will be held near Washington, DC over Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25, 2009.

TAPS is also planning a specialized national gathering for surviving families of suicide later this year. A location and date are currently being determined.

To help returning troops cope with the death of a fellow service member, TAPS has taken its proven peer-based emotional support model and developed a “battle buddy” support program. Meeting during the organization’s regional seminars, battle buddy programs are currently scheduled for Fort Lewis, Washington (Feb. 27-March 1), Fort Stewart, Georgia (March 13-15), Camp LeJeune, North Carolina (March 20-22), Fort Carson, Colorado (May 1-3), and the National Military Survivor Seminar (May 22-25) in Washington, DC.

HOW THE PUBLIC CAN HELP
The American public can help by donating funds to support TAPS programs that offer care and support for surviving military families that have experienced suicide. Donations may be made online through www.taps.org and designating the gift as in honor of suicide survivors.

ABOUT TAPS
Founded in 1994 by surviving military families, TAPS provides ongoing emotional help, hope, and healing to all who are grieving the death of a loved one in military service to America, regardless of relationship to the deceased, geography, or circumstance of the death. TAPS meets its mission by providing peer-based support, crisis care, casualty casework assistance, and grief and trauma resources. Services are provided free of charge. For more information go to www.taps.org or call the toll-free crisis line at 800.959.TAPS.

From TAPS News Release

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