Last night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Congressman Jim McDermott's (D-WA) measure with bipartisan support to help reverse the alarming rise in suicides among active-duty U.S. military service members. The measure increases funding for suicide prevention by $10 million and at the same time reduces funding for the Afghanistan war by $22 million. The House adopted the measure as part of the Department of Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013 -- the Pentagon's annual budget.
"We spend about $10 million per hour in the Afghanistan war and right now we are losing a soldier every day to suicide," said Congressman McDermott. "Shifting an hour's worth of war funding to the fight of preventing soldier suicides is the least we can do."
McDermott, a psychiatrist who treated sailors and marines returning from the Vietnam War while serving in the U.S. Navy, has been following the tragic issue since a March 2012 Army report on Force Health and Discipline. In June, the Pentagon revealed that active-duty soldiers were committing suicide at a rate of nearly one a day so far in 2012, 18% above 2011's corresponding toll. Time magazine recently highlighted military suicides in a cover story, noting: "More U.S. military personnel have died by suicide since the war in Afghanistan began than have died fighting there."
In explaining his measure, McDermott spoke on the House floor about the importance of reducing the stigma that often attaches in the military culture merely for seeking treatment for depression -- a contributing cause of the complex epidemic.
"Service members are often reluctant to seek psychological help, concerned about a perceived double standard around visible vs. invisible wounds of war and treatment," said McDermott. "We must ensure that like all health care, seeking and receiving psychological health care never jeopardizes a soldier's security clearance or her or his prospects for a military career."
In addition to strengthening suicide prevention services and reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, McDermott urged the Pentagon to use these additional resources for the hiring, development, and retention of the talented, highly-skilled psychological health professionals that our military deserves.
The McDermott measure increases funding for suicide prevention outreach in the Defense Health Programs by $10 million and reduces funding for the Afghan Security Forces by $22 million. McDermott's measure was successfully included as an amendment to the Department of Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013, which the House is expected to approve later today. After passage through the House, McDermott will work with his Senate colleagues to ensure that this $10 million increase is included in the bill that is ultimately sent to the President and signed into law.