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Public Statements

Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. MURKOWSKI. Mr. President I have come to the floor today to introduce a piece of legislation that I feel is timely and critically necessary, the Department of Defense Suicide Tracking Act of 2014. As our Nation winds down involvement in the longest war in our history, it is incumbent on all of us to ensure that the men and women who have carried the burden of combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other parts of the world, as well as their family members, are taken care of to the fullest extent possible. That means we must address the tragic suicide epidemic in our military. While the services have focused on this problem for years, there still appears to be significant gaps, especially in reserve component and dependent tracking and analysis. This is a complex issue with no obvious solutions, but I intend to work with my colleagues in the Senate to develop comprehensive, meaningful ways to address this problem.

The DoD recently released its 2012 DoD Suicide Event Report, which concluded that there were a total of 319 active component suicides and 203 reserve component suicides in 2012. That equates to 22.7 and 24.2 for every 100,000 service members, respectively. Additionally, there were a total of 841 attempted suicides in 2012. While preliminary data suggests that 2013 had an 18 percent drop in suicides, this is still a significant and tragic problem in the military that we need to tackle head-on. The report doesn't include any data for dependent suicide or attempted suicide, because currently only the U.S. Army even tries to track that information, so there is no comprehensive assessment of how years of combat and readiness have impacted military dependents in that way.

The purpose of the DoD Suicide Tracking Act is to establish programs to consistently track and analyze information regarding suicides involving members of the reserve components and dependents of regular and reserve component members. Specifically, the bill would improve consistency in reserve component suicide prevention and resiliency programs by requiring the Secretary of Defense to develop a standard method for collecting, reporting, and assessing suicide data and suicide attempt data involving members of the National Guard and Reserves. Alaskans are extremely proud of the contributions of our National Guard and Reserve members, both home and abroad. They have endured the stress of readiness, deployments and combat like the active component, making us all very proud. As such, it is time that we ensure the Department of Defense is tracking and addressing their mental well-being just like every other military member.

According to an annual survey by the Blue Star Families military family advocacy group, of 5,100 military family members surveyed in 2012, 9 percent of military spouses reported that they had considered suicide. Of those, nearly a quarter said they had not sought help. This bill would establish a Department of Defense suicide prevention program for military dependents that requires each service to implement programs to track, report and analyze information regarding suicides. We often talk about the burden placed on military family members, but when it comes to suicide we have simply cut them out of the conversation. This bill would ensure the DoD finally focuses on the hardship and emotional stress born by military dependents and keeps them in the picture when evaluating the problem and working towards a solution. Our military family members have endured countless deployments, cared for injured service members, and picked up the pieces when heroes have made the ultimate sacrifice. I intend to make sure our government cares for them and gives them options beyond suicide to recover from their pain and emotional stress.

Suicide among the active military, reserve and veteran populations continues to be a problem that doesn't appear to be improving. Sadly, the problem will likely get worse before it improves as the war in Afghanistan winds down and the services downsize, sending veterans with complex mental issues into the private sector without the military for support. That is why we need to improve our efforts now to proactively identify and care for these service members and their families as soon as possible and with the full resourcing of the Department of Defense. Our military men and women, and their families, have endured years of conflict across the world. They embody the proud tradition of selfless service to our Nation and I cannot thank them enough for everything they do. I call on all of my colleagues in the Senate to help those who have dedicated their lives to helping others and who, day in and day out, make the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of our freedoms.

I would like to thank Representative NIKI TSONGAS for her leadership on this issue and introduction of the House companion bill, H.R. 4504.

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