Congressman Jim McDermott (WA-7) and Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-3) urged leaders of the U.S. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee to work with them in getting the Pentagon to use all of its unspent suicide prevention funds to reach more service members as soon as possible, and to go even further with higher funding next year. In July, the McDermott-Boswell amendment that would increase critical funding for suicide prevention for active duty military by $10 million passed with strong support in the House Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013.
"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," said Congressman McDermott. "The Pentagon is funded to help soldiers and needs to do much more on the epidemic of suicides. As we commemorate National Suicide Prevention Week, we are calling on the Pentagon to move much faster."
Congressman Boswell added, "We lose a soldier to suicide every day, a record pace that is driving the number of military suicides to all-time highs. As I said on the House floor in July, this is a national epidemic that requires immediate Congressional action to provide the necessary resources to prevent these tragedies from happening. With this year's defense appropriations legislation at a standstill, and only days remaining in the legislative calendar, we urge leaders to act on freeing up the existing funds for soldier suicide prevention and outreach."
Below is the full text of the letter:
September 10, 2012
The Honorable C.W. Bill Young The Honorable Norman D. Dicks
Chairman Ranking Member
Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Defense Appropriations Subcommittee
H-307, The Capitol 1016 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20515
Dear Chairman Young and Ranking Member Dicks:
As authors of the Boswell-McDermott amendment that passed with strong support in the House Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013, we thank you for your commitment to combat suicide in the U.S. military. While neither our amendment nor the Department's spending bill has become law, we believe that the debate on the bill and on our amendment in particular has helped to draw attention to the epidemic of rising suicides in our Armed Forces, with the ultimate goal of providing adequate resources to the men and women who seek help.
This week is Suicide Prevention Week. Knowing that you share our commitment to address this epidemic, we write to draw your attention to a restriction that is complicating the Pentagon's efforts to combat military suicides effectively.
Last year, Congress increased program funding by more than $8 million for suicide prevention under the Defense Health Program. However, a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in June revealed that the additional funding remains largely unspent. Testifying on behalf of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, witness Charles Curie explained that these funds "must be used for healthcare delivery programs and services and not for education and training or research and development programs." He went on to say:
Requiring additional funding to be spent on treatment is not going help the Services get in "front" of this problem. The Services should have the authority to spend it on "program evaluation" and prevention efforts and not just on healthcare delivery.
Therefore, AFSP requests that this Committee add clarifying language to the FY 13 Defense Appropriations bill that would allow for these dollars to be spent on pre-medical related prevention, education, and outreach programs.
Several weeks ago, the Army released suicide data for the month of July indicating the highest one-month tally of suicides in recent Army history. At a time when the suicide rate for active duty service members and reservists is at an all-time high, it is unconscionable that we would allow a technicality to block funds that could be used to strengthen outreach and prevention.
With legislation stalled in the Senate and little time remaining on the legislative calendar, we ask for your immediate attention to this matter. If we can enable these funds to more quickly facilitate programs for prevention, education and outreach, then we urge you to push to include clarifying language in the continuing resolution. We cannot wait until after the election to help the heroes get the assistance they deserve.
LEONARD BOSWELL JIM McDERMOTT