DoD's suicide report: A call for action

The Department of Defense (DoD) released its 2012 Annual Suicide Event Report, which detailed the number of servicemembers who committed suicide – or attempted to do so.

During the 2012 calendar year, the report stated: 319 active-duty servicemembers, 73 reservists and 130 members of the National Guard committed suicide; and 841 servicemembers tried to commit suicide one or more times.

The American Legion is urging DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to institute programs that address suicide risk proactively – before veterans are in crisis – and to apply research in developing risk-recognition and intervention strategies, such as educating families to better understand whether a servicemember or veteran is at risk.

Risk-identification models also need to be introduced that allow for targeted outreach to veterans who are most likely to be at risk and social stigma associated with those seeking care must also be reduced.

Besides VA’s suicide-prevention screening tool, The American Legion has noted that only limited evidence-based research is available to DoD and VA on precursors or risk factors that lead to suicides and attempts among military and veteran populations.

The Legion also wants DoD and VA to develop routine wellness screenings, using evidence-based research, that primary-care clinicians can use to help veterans address their quality-of-life concerns. Primary-care clinicians must be equipped with wellness strategies, The American Legion recommends, that include questions about life stressors that veterans or servicemembers may be experiencing, such as problems with his or her spouse, finances, loss of job, homelessness, substance abuse or legal issues.

“It’s not only the ones calling the Military Crisis Line, who are currently being treated or flagged for suicide ideation, that we are worried about,” said John Stovall, director of the Legion’s National Security Division, “but the ones who fall through the cracks. We, as friends and neighbors, have to do a better job identifying those in distress.”

While many people may think that most suicides are committed by servicemembers who deployed to combat zones, Stovall said, “We are also seeing many suicides among veterans and military members who never saw combat.”

According to its preliminary data for 2013, DoD has reported 261 suicides among active-duty servicemembers and 213 among reserve and National Guard members.

The DoD report identified as a top priority the building of resilience in servicemembers and their families. As of last December, the department had hired about 9,400 mental-health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, social workers, counselors and other licensed mental-health providers.

If you are a servicemember or family member in crisis, or know someone who is, please call the Military Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 (press 1), send a text to 838255 or go online to The line provides 24/7 confidential support to all servicemembers and their families.

The 2012 DoD suicide report is available here.