WASHINGTON — After another rise in the military suicide rate last year, the services on Thursday outlined to Congress their efforts to reverse the trend and evaluate their prevention programs.
The overall program review has fallen to the Pentagon’s relatively new Defense Suicide Prevention Office, which opened in 2011.
By the end of September, it should complete its comprehensive inventory of all the service’s programs and will have identified gaps and overlaps in the various efforts, Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the prevention office, told the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel. From there the office will begin to streamline and unify what is offered across the services, she said.
Although she didn’t answer questions about how they were evaluating the programs – besides collecting data from the branches – she said it was a top priority of her office.
Looking for specifics on prevention outcomes, Brad R. Wenstrup, R-Ohio, asked: “Any way of measuring how many saves we’ve had?”
“We’re just starting to do that now,” said Army Lt. Gen. Howard B. Bromberg, deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel, which handles the service’s suicide prevention efforts. He noted that the Army has tracked for 24 months an infantry unit that went through resiliency training to see the impact it had on suicide outcomes. They found that while suicidal gestures were the same, the number of peer-to-peer interventions went up.
Last year the Army set another record with 324 suicides. For active duty, the 183 suicides in 2012 far exceeded the previous record of 148 in 2009.
“While most Army suicides continue to be among junior enlisted soldiers, the number of suicides by non-commissioned officers has increased over each of the last three years,” Bromberg said.
He said the Army is working on changing its culture, which has long stigmatized the need for mental health care. The service claims to have made a dent in the stigma over recent years, pointing to survey results that show that the percentage of enlisted soldiers who thought seeking mental health care would harm their career dropped from 69 percent in 1999 to 52 percent in 2012, and 81 percent to 54 percent for officers, according to Bromberg’s written testimony.
All the services stressed that suicide is a growing nationwide problem, reflecting a frustration with lawmakers’ focus on suicide within the military community.