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Army Colonel Pushes for Stronger Suicide Prevention

Tuesday, January 26, 2010
By David Loebsack |

Col. George Patrin's son, Andrew, took his own life last spring, sending the 20-year Army doctor on a desperate mission to find out what went wrong.

Having served as a battalion surgeon in Saudi Arabia, the medical director for TRICARE Europe, and now as the branch chief for health care business operations in the Joint Task Force, Patrin was in a great position to ask questions. He delivered his findings during the 2010 Military Health System Conference on January 25th.

His lecture, which was given alongside his wife Pam and two other surviving mothers, was titled “Military Suicide Prevention and Postvention: From the Surivivor's Perspective.”

“My entire career has been one of advocacy for improved health care,” said Patrin. “I must believe that Andrew's death could have been prevented. I will continue to challenge the system to improve, just as I did before Andrew's death.”

He was referring to a system much larger than the MHS, although he admitted that military health care needs to bolster its prevention mechanisms. Along those lines, he introduced Liz Sweet, surviving mother of Sgt. T.J. Sweet, who discussed the stigma surrounding mental health issues as being one of the major detriments to her son's well-being. Her biggest complaint was that her son's superiors lacked sensitivity to his condition and ended up perpetuating the stigma.

Patrin broadened the scope to the community at large, and discussed needing “a village” of responders. He talked about his son's peers who failed to take any of his threats seriously; he listed the multiple opportunities that police had to intervene, despite filing many reports; he even discussed the role that businesses and corporations can play to help locate potential victims.

While Patrin doesn't blame any one individual or organization for missing the warning signs, he does want to push for increased education, transparency and intervention services for all patients, military and non-military. Among the top priorities, he referred to “Brandon's Law” as a potentially effective prevention measure which would speed up investigations of missing/endangered persons, allow phone call traces to take place and ultimately direct agencies to work together.

Overall, the Patrins want to promote transparency. Col. Patrin admitted that talking about his son's suicide has been extremely difficult, but he emphasizes its importance.

“If we don't conduct after-action review, we won't identify the next [potential victim] we could help, and prevent the next tragedy,” said Patrin.

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