1 Suicide Every 36 Hours
Posted by Bryan Maxwell on September 15
Recently, a congressionally mandated task force released its final report on military suicides to the Pentagon citing “heightened operational tempo, repeated deployments and insufficient quantity and quality of dwell time” as contributing to incredibly high suicide rates in the military.
The report noted that from 2005 to 2009, more than 1,100 servicemembers committed suicide—an average of 1 suicide every 36 hours. Suicide rates in the Marine Corps and Army have severely increased and the Army rate has more than doubled. Since 2001, 252 servicemembers have killed themselves in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The task force recognized efforts made by all military branches to prevent suicide, but concluded that they are a falling short because the programs are not centrally organized. The rush to respond to the challenge and the lack of strategic planning has led to unintended consequences. These include, inefficient programs and missed prevention opportunities.
To address this fundamental problem the task force recommended creating a “Suicide Prevention Policy Division” at the Office of the Secretary of Defense to centralize planning and implementation. Additionally, the task force had 49 findings and made 76 targeted recommendations, including:
- Reduce stress on the force
- Focus on overall servicemember well-being (mind, body, and spirit)
- Develop Comprehensive Stigma Reduction Campaign Plan
- Hold leaders accountable to ensure positive command climate
- Develop skills-based training regarding suicide prevention
- Coordinate and leverage the strengths of installation and community support services for both Active and Reserve component servicemembers
- Standardize suicide investigations
- Support and fund ongoing DoD suicide prevention research
The task force, established by the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act, was composed of seven DoD officials and seven non-DoD officials with broad military and civilian expertise. Co-chairs included Major General Philip Volpe, Commanding General of the Army’s Western Regional Medical Command and Ms. Bonnie Carroll, Director of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). The report now goes to Defense Secretary Gates, who has 90 days to approve the report and submit it to Congress.
To end the suicide epidemic, IAVA continues to call on the VA and DoD to address this problem. We need a nationwide campaign to combat suicide and promote the use of DoD and VA services such as Vet Centers and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The recently released task force report is a step in the right direction, but until there is a national campaign targeting every servicemember and veteran, many will continue to fall through the cracks.
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