Pentagon Releases Suicide Recommendations ‘Subject to Availability of Funding’

September 29, 2023 9:45 AM
Sailors and Marines conduct a foreign object debris walk-down at dusk on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in 2009. US Navy Photo

The Pentagon will not address improvements to junior enlisted base housing, expanding transportation access for troops or changing on-base firearm purchase policy as part of its latest suicide prevention plan, Defense Department officials told reporters this week.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a memo on Thursday detailing the recommendations that the Department of Defense will implement from the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee. The memo comes approximately seven months after the group published its report.

The secretary’s memo divides each of the recommendations into five tiers as well as “five lines of effort:” fostering a supportive environment, improving the delivery of mental health care, addressing stigma and barriers to care, revising suicide prevention training and promoting a culture of lethal means safety.

Funded recommendations in the first tier, as well as immediate actions, existing initiatives and cost-neutral recommendations will need to have their plans of action filed by Oct. 31, with implementation by Jan. 31.

Funded recommendations in the second and third tier will have their plans submitted by Dec. 31, with implementation by March 31. Those in the fourth and fifth tiers will have plans submitted by March 31 and implementation by June 30.

However, the majority of the recommendations are considered subject to the availability of funding, according to the memo. Elizabeth Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency for the under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, told reporters that she could not yet say what the cost estimate would be and that the estimates will likely come in Fiscal Year 2025.

While the deadlines for funded recommendations would see recommendations implemented next year, the final deadline for all recommendations is the end of 2030, Foster said.

“We are going to focus on implementing some of these recommendations much sooner and in an ideal world, we would have all of them implemented before that final date,” Foster said. “But what I also want to emphasize is that we need to urgently get after this problem, but we also need to be very careful and methodical in our work because nothing will sort of break space with our service members in this space more than if we rush out this new initiative and we don’t get it right. We want to make sure that we’re getting this right from the outset.”

Some of these recommendations include increasing the number of active-duty behavioral health technicians, expanding telehealth services and providing advanced training on suicide prevention to behavioral health technicians.

There is a national shortage of mental health providers, a reality that affects the Defense Department, Dr. Tim Hoyt, deputy director for force resiliency, told reporters. As part of some of the immediate actions, the Department of Defense plans to implement an “episodes of care” model to help track people throughout the care system.

Through case management, the DoD plans to increase the availability of the existing health care professionals, Foster said.

The DOD elected not to follow 16 recommendations from the suicide prevention committee, including adding air conditioning to all military housing, installing light-blocking curtains in military housing and ensuring adequate transportation between on-base housing and work, according to the memo.

Foster said the Pentagon chose not to implement the housing recommendations because the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition & Sustainment is already looking at housing challenges overall, and the force resiliency office did not want to step on any toes.

The DoD also elected not to implement a recommendation for a 24/7 sobriety program for service members arrested on alcohol-related crimes.

The Defense Department elected not to implement five recommendations focused on guns, including raising the age for purchasing firearms on DoD properties and waiting periods between the purchase of firearms and ammunition and delivery. Foster said the Pentagon chose not to use the recommendations due to “significant legal barriers.”

The independent review commission highlighted gun recommendations because firearms are one of the most used methods by military members, USNI News previously reported. The DoD did include a number of recommendations on gun storage, which is aimed at making it more difficult to use a gun in a suicide. One of the thought processes behind gun safety for suicide is that the addition of time in accessing a gun might be enough for a person to get help or reconsider.

Some existing DoD actions have already met some of the recommendations, according to the memo, such as an existing initiative to ensure timeliness in Tricare payment claim processing and revising credentialing standards for licensed professional counselors and marriage and family therapists.

“Suicide prevention is a long-term effort,” reads the memo. “Change will not happen overnight, but we have no time to spare. The men and women who step up to serve our country in uniform are this Department’s most important asset.”

Suicide Prevention Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Military Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

The Navy Suicide Prevention Handbook is a guide designed to be a reference for policy requirements, program guidance, and educational tools for commands. The handbook is organized to support fundamental command Suicide Prevention Program efforts in Training, Intervention, Response, and Reporting.

The 1 Small ACT Toolkit helps sailors foster a command climate that supports psychological health. The toolkit includes suggestions for assisting sailors in staying mission ready, recognizing warning signs of increased suicide risk in oneself or others, and taking action to promote safety.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
Follow @hmongilio

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