Today, Congressman Joe Baca (D-Rialto) introduced legislation designed to enhance the suicide prevention programs offered by the Department of Defense. The Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Act of 2011 specifically requires suicide prevention training for service men and women in all branches of the military during recruit basic training, routine mental health assessments, and pre-separation counseling.
"The increase in the number of suicides among members of our Armed Forces is an alarming and truly heartbreaking trend," said Rep. Baca. "While the military Services are making significant efforts to address this issue, a recent Department of Defense Task Force found there are wide variations in the implementation of preventive services across the various branches. I am hopeful that by providing suicide prevention training to service members in all branches, during all phases of their military careers, we can reduce the number of tragedies our military families face."
In the United States, suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among 25- to 44-year-olds. In conducting a five-year research effort, the National Institute of Mental Health found that the Army suicide rate has more than doubled since 2004, from 10 to 22 per 100,000 among active duty soldiers. This rate surpasses the rate for civilians of the same age and gender. Historically, the suicide rate has been lower in the military than among civilians, but in 2008, that pattern was reversed - with the suicide rate in the Army exceeding the age-adjusted rate in the civilian population (20.2 out of 100,000 vs. 19.2).
The Armed Forces Suicide Prevention Act requires that each military suicide prevention training session include, at a minimum:
* Methods for recognizing risk factors for suicide;
* Protocols for responding to crisis situations involving members who may be at high risk;
* Information about suicide prevention services available to members (including toll-free hotlines and Internet resources); and
* Information for best practices for suicide prevention.
"As an Army veteran myself, I am all too aware of the hardships our military men and women and their families endure to protect our country," concluded Rep. Baca. "Our courageous men and women in uniform deserve access to the very best care possible. In order for our nation to better uphold our end of the bargain, we must do a better job of providing members of the Armed Forces with the preventive care and skills they need to recognize suicide risk factors, and get help."
Rep. Baca is a veteran who served in the U.S. Army as a paratrooper with both the 101st and the 82nd Airborne Divisions from 1966-68.