As the Defense Department grapples with the 33.5-percent increase in suicide deaths of active-duty members since 2016, it has become clear that the prevalence of these incidents is higher in remote locations both stateside and abroad.
To reverse this disturbing trend, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has come forward with steps that should be taken, which would address how commanders respond to suicides.
“We recommend that DoD establish guidance to address commanders’ response to suicide attempts, which may allow the department to better ensure that commanders across the military services are equipped to support service members returning to duty following a suicide attempt,” GAO stated in a blog published on its web site.
GAO stated in a blog post that five service members at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, killed themselves between May 2018 and March 2019 – raising concern about the effects extreme weather, isolation and limited access to behavioral health care can have. The blog added that the Defense Department still has not done enough to assess suicides in installations like Wainwright.
“We recommend that DoD develop a process for assessing risk factors for suicide and related challenges affecting remote installations outside of the contiguous U.S. – and take appropriate action,” GAO stated.
Even though Pentagon policy requires installations to carry out suicide-prevention policies, “We found that the Army, the Navy, and the Marine Corps have not sufficiently ensured that these activities are carried out. This could leave service members at some installations without access to suicide prevention resources that should be in place.”
Besides the devastating effects suicides have on service members and families, GAO noted that they also have adverse affects on readiness because the adverse effects on morale and esprit de corps.