Military suicide rate 17 percent below 2014 pace, DOD says

by Dan Carden
The Times, Munster, Ind.

INDIANAPOLIS (Tribune News Service) — Military suicides are on track to fall below 400 for the year — a significant drop from the recent peak of 513 servicemembers who took their own lives in 2012.

According to preliminary data recently released by the U.S. Department of Defense, 99 active-duty and reserve troops committed suicide in January, February and March.

That's a 17 percent decline compared to the same three-month period in 2014, which was the deadliest quarter of the year for military suicides.

Active-duty troops remained more likely than reserves to take their own lives, accounting for 57 of the 99 deaths so far this year.

Of those, 30 were in the Army, 14 in the Air Force, 10 in the Navy and 3 in the Marines.

Army Reserve (10) and Army National Guard (20) soldiers comprised the majority of suicides among military reservists. The Air National Guard tallied 7 suicides, Navy Reserve 3, Air Force Reserve 1 and Marines Reserve 1.

U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., who has made military suicide reduction a top priority of his first term, said he remains committed to developing programs that will further shrink the number of servicemember suicides.

"This Pentagon report yet again reminds us that much work remains to address the scourge of military suicide," Donnelly said. "There are no easy solutions, but I believe Congress can play a role in improving mental health care for our servicemembers and helping to prevent military suicide."

Already all active duty and reserve troops must undergo an annual mental health assessment, thanks to Donnelly winning passage last year of the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act — named for a Hoosier soldier who killed himself in 2009 while on 15-day leave from Afghanistan.

Donnelly is working to ensure his "Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package" remains in the must-pass defense spending legislation awaiting a final vote by the Republican-controlled Congress.

His "care package" requires all health care providers employed by the Department of Defense receive suicide risk training every three years and establishes best practices for suicide prevention across the military.

It also creates a "military-friendly" designation for private health care providers who demonstrate understanding of military culture and evidence-based mental health treatments, and establishes an online registry so servicemembers can easily find them.

"I continue to work nonstop on legislation that seeks to improve mental health care for our servicemembers and veterans, and hope that Congress will finish its work on the national defense bill soon, so it can be signed by President Obama," Donnelly said.

Military suicide data only has been tracked for active duty and reserve troops in the past few years. The suicide total has fallen every year since 2012, but continues to exceed the number of troops killed in combat.

Two years ago, 469 servicemembers took their own lives. There were 442 military suicides in 2014.

©2015 The Times (Munster, Ind.)
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