May 18, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Mental health expert will lead military's suicide prevention review

Pentagon

The Pentagon. Photo: STAFF/AFP via Getty Images

A mental health expert who serves in the Department of Veterans Affairs will lead a team of nine people to conduct a review into suicides in the military, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: Dr. Gayle Iwamasa and a team including experts in substance abuse, sexual assault and other fields will take a "public health approach" at looking into military suicides, the Department of Defense said. Suicides among active duty service members have increased substantially in recent years.

Background: Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin first announced the committee's formation in March. Members will also include an expert on suicide, an epidemiologist, retired service members, a public health expert and a retired military chaplain. 

The panel will review the DOD's efforts to address and prevent suicide. Members will visit military installations and conduct focus groups, interviews and a confidential survey of service members.

  • They "will be supported by consultants who will add critical perspectives in the areas of officer and enlisted leadership, the needs and perspectives of our military families, and the role of chaplains in suicide prevention."
  • The committee will aim to "detail actionable improvements to policies, programs, processes and resources to prevent suicides in the military."

The big picture: Suicide rates among the U.S. military increased by 41.4% from 2015 to 2020, according to a DOD report out last year.

State of play: Committee members are in D.C. this week to start their work, and will begin visiting military installations in July, DOD Press Secretary John Kirby said during a briefing Tuesday.

What to watch: The panel's first report is due to Austin in December, and their final report and recommendations are due to Congress in February 2023. 

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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