What Admiral Stearney could mean for the battle against veteran suicide

Elizabeth Howe
December 10, 2018 - 1:18 pm

Early last week, Vice Adm. Scott Stearney, commander of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command and commander of U.S. Fifth Fleet in Bahrain was found dead in his residence. An investigation indicated that the cause of death was suicide.

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Admiral Stearney's death was eclipsed in the news cycle last week by the passing of Former President George HW Bush. But it did not go unnoticed by the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, or Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Of America.

"What I can tell you is that I know it got the attention of the Pentagon and folks at the DoD who are still looking into the circumstances behind why Admiral Stearney made this decision," said Melissa Bryant, chief policy officer at IAVA. Bryant and IAVA have been at the forefront of the battle against veteran suicide for years.

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Stearney is one of the higher ranking individuals to die by suicide. His high rank and high profile position have the potential to raise awareness and serve as a "wake up call" according to IAVA's CEO and founder.


"When you look at someone as high ranking as Admiral Stearney, it really is troubling because you see across the board the daily struggles of military life — whether it's financial insecurity, family life instability, however many other factors there are that lead someone to have suicidal ideation and then complete suicide," Bryant said. "It affects everyone, and I think maybe it's a clarion call when you see the Fifth Fleet commander — someone with seemingly all the resources in the world — complete suicide. It shows that it goes all the way up the chain."

Stearney is far from the first veteran or active duty service member to die by suicide this year. In fact, based on the VA's research into veteran suicide rates, Stearney could be the 6,680th veteran to die by suicide this year alone. But, while no life carries more value or worth than another, if a high-ranking official draws more attention to the veteran suicide crisis, those fighting this battle should seize the opportunity. 

"Paul is absolutely right that maybe this will draw attention to suicide as a national crisis like when Anthony Bourdain died by suicide and Kate Spade in the same week," said Bryant. "We've got to take advantage of whatever catches the eye. I hate to think of politicizing or publicizing anyone's death in any way — and I don't look at it as politicizing. I look at it as raising awareness. We've got to champion this effort. It doesn't matter who these 20 a day are. They're our brothers and sisters."

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Time will tell if Stearney's death will have a lasting impact on Congress and those individuals responsible for furthering this cause at a national level. But IAVA is determined not to let the admiral or any other veteran be forgotten in the battle against veteran suicide.

"We've got to ensure that we have tough oversight of our existing laws, that we're amending those laws as necessary to attack this issue, and to ensure that Congress doesn't take their foot off the gas when it comes to workable solutions for suicide prevention and mental health awareness," Bryant said. "Whatever gets their attention I'm all for it."

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