House Panel Discusses Military Suicide

Jacqueline Garrick, Acting Director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, told the House Military Personnel Subcommittee last week that there were 291 confirmed military suicides for FY 2012 and that 59 deaths are still pending determination. These numbers are troubling and reflect a significant increase compared to past years (10.3 military suicides per 100,000 in 2001 to 18.3 per 100,000 in 2010).

Garrick also shared statistics for a comparable civilian population and revealed that the civilian suicide rate is higher (21.8 civilian suicides per 100,000 in 2001; 25.1 per 100,000 in 2010), but military suicides are increasing at a significantly faster rate. Civilian suicides went up 15 percent over the nine-year period, while military suicides went up 77 percent over the same time period.

She and witnesses from the four military services testified on DoD’s suicide prevention programs. Chief of Naval Personnel VADM Scott Van Bustkirk stated that the Navy had 65 suicides in 2012, six more than last year, and there have been 13 Navy suicides so far in 2013. Discussion also centered on access to behavioral health counselors, particularly for Reserve Component personnel. Van Bustkirk cited 55 counselors available for Marine/Navy Reservists, and Garrick noted the expansion of “Partners in Care,” a chaplain program in which faith-based organizations provide support to Reserve Component members.

The Marine Corps has developed policies and programs to make all personnel responsible for the health and well-being of their fellow Marines, Brig. Gen Robert Hedelund, director of Marine and Family Programs, told the subcommittee. “Marines are taught to know each other at a personal level -- to know their behavior patterns, their likes and dislikes so they can identify even subtle changes,” and then aid them in seeking help if suicide warning signs occur.

Suicide prevention is a high priority for FRA and has been addressed in the Association’s recent congressional testimony. FRA believes that efforts to limit and prevent suicide should address financial and marital stress.