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Cornyn calls for hearings on recruiter suicides

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By MICHELLE ROBERTS Associated Press Writer © 2009 The Associated Press - Jan. 22, 2009, 5:09PM

SAN ANTONIO — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Thursday called for a congressional hearing on suicides among Army recruiters, saying a recent group of deaths in an East Texas battalion show the strain on an all-volunteer force fighting two wars.

An Army investigation attributed the four suicides over three years in the Houston Recruiting Battalion to a combination of work environment, stress and personal issues. The investigation also found the Army was violating its own regulations by pressuring recruiters to meet individual recruiter goals that were higher than military policies prescribed.

"As you might imagine, corners might have been cut — and they were — given the exigency of recruiting for war," Cornyn said in a conference call with reporters. "The concern is that this is not isolated to a single battalion."

Four members of the 266-member battalion that covers most of East Texas have committed suicide since 2005. Nationwide, 15 recruiters have committed suicide since 2003; the Houston battalion was the only one to report more than one.

Cornyn asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to schedule a hearing to address the strain recruiters are under to fill an all-volunteer force during wartime. Family members of some of the recruiters who committed suicide have complained that the isolating high-stress job crushed combat-veteran recruiters.

Cornyn`s call came one day after the Army announced it had completed an investigation into the deaths.

Brig. Gen. Frank Turner III concluded in the 2 1/2-month investigation that the Texas deaths were caused by a combination of factors.

Army spokesman Col. Michael Negard said Turner found that the brigade covering East Texas and a large swath of the south-central United States required recruiters to find two recruits per month when the Army only needed them to sign three recruits every two months.

"That did, in fact, violate the policy and the reg and it also put undue recruiting stress on the recruiters," said Negard of the way the goals were established. "It`s a tough recruiting environment out there. There can be a significant difference between recruiting one and recruiting two" per month.

The goals have already been reduced to comply with Army regulations, Negard said.

Cornyn, who was briefed on the investigation, said at least one recruiter had been humiliated by the command and all had some personal relationship problems.

On Feb. 13, all recruiters and commanders will suspend their recruiting duties for training and discussions on how to improve the command. They`ll undergo training on leadership, suicide prevention and wellness programs for recruiters and their families, Negard said.

The Army is also reviewing recruiter screening and selection processes, provisions for soldiers needing mental health care and access to care and support groups for recruiters who are often isolated far from Army posts.

Charlotte Porter, the mother of recruiter Sgt. Nils "Aron" Andersson, said the actions are good steps forward. Andersson committed suicide in March 2007.

"There`s so much pain still," she said. "It`s not only the Army that`s going to have to take a stand. Other people are going to have to take a stand. These young men fought for our rights to speak out. When they come home, we have to find a way to listen."

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