According to a report from the Associated Press, deaths by suicide in the military hit a record high of 349 last year, exceeding combat deaths for the third time in the last four years. The Associated Press reported 295 American combat deaths in Afghanistan in 2012.
The Army currently has a “Suicide Prevent Program” that instructs any solider who hears a fellow solider mention suicide to “ask, care, and escort” them to a behavioral-health provider, chaplain, or a primary-care provider. The military also has its own suicide prevention lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
Some lawmakers say the program isn’t enough, and last September, two members of Congress, Democrats Jim McDermott and Leonard Boswell, called on the Department of Defense to allocate money for increased anti-suicide initiatives.
“The Pentagon hasn’t spent the money that it has for suicide prevention for this year — and that money wasn’t nearly enough money to reach all the soldiers who need help. Now we are hearing about bureaucratic technicalities at the Pentagon that are preventing them from acting. This is unconscionable,” McDermot said.“The Pentagon is funded to help soldiers and needs to do much more on the epidemic of suicides.”
The National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, recently signed into law by President Obama, does however do more to tackle military suicide deaths.
A provision added to the bill gives military commanding officers or health professionals the ability to ask service members if they own a gun privately when they think that troop is at risk of hurting himself.
The line removed a provision added in 2011 specifically at the lobbying of the National Rifle Association which stopped the Pentagon from collecting data from members of the armed services about their privately owned guns.
Another provision added now requires the Secretary of Defense to create a comprehensive prevention program for the military and a create a new post to oversee it.
Lawmakers are already reacting to the news of the record high suicide count for the military. Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington called it an “epidemic that cannot be ignored.” Murray called for increased mental health care for veterans and current troops saying “with one service member dying by suicide almost every single day, and 18 veterans dying by suicide every day, any delay on this is inexcusable.”