Concerned with the increase in commandos taking their own lives, a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee is calling for the Pentagon to review Department of Defense efforts regarding suicide prevention among members of the Special Operations Forces and their dependents.
The call for a review is included in proposals by the Military Personnel Subcommittee as part of the half-trillion dollar-plus military budget request for the fiscal year beginning in October. If the measure passes, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would have three months after passage of the budget to report the findings to the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
“If the final bill calls for a report, we will work with the Department of Defense to ensure they have all the information they need to report to Congress,” said U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw.
The subcommittee is also calling for a look at the overall issue of troop suicides, as well as how the military is handling sexual assaults, military health care costs and other health and well-being issues.
Earlier this month, Socom commander Adm. William McRaven told a Tampa intelligence symposium that commandos are committing suicide at a record pace this year. Though he offered no figures, he was repeating a concern he first raised in February at a Congressional hearing on his budget.
“The last two years have been the highest rate of suicides we have had in the special operations community and this year I am afraid we are on the path to break that,” McRaven, whose headquarters is at MacDill Air Force Base, said at the GEOINT 2013* Symposium in Tampa earlier this month.
The review, according to the committee, would include whether it is feasible to apply existing Department of Defense suicide prevention policy guidelines and prevention programs to Special Operations Forces. It would also examine current armed forces and Socom strategies to reduce suicides among members of the Special Operations Forces and their dependents as well as the standards for responding to attempted or completed suicides, including guidance and training to assist commanders in addressing incidents of suicide, among other elements.
“The committee is concerned as you look at declines in suicide across the entire force,” said committee spokesman Claude Chafin. “There are declines in general force in the rates of suicide, but the trends in the special operations community is going the other way. That is of course a deep concern.”
The call for a review is a “reaction to a concerning reality,” said Chafin. “The committee has an oversight responsibility and there are problems we need to understand. It is up to us to examine this as closely as we can to try and help the department come to a solution.”
Socom officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but after McRaven delivered his speech to the symposium, the command issued a statement outlining measures it is taking to respond to the increasing suicides.
Socom’s Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine components are complying with all of their parent services requirements and programs for suicide prevention, said McGraw in an Apr. 17 email.
Under McRaven’s Preservation of the Force and Family program, Socom “is responding with a holistic approach that takes into account every factor that might contribute to this challenge” including “the psychological, social, spiritual, and physical factors that are known to contribute to suicide,” said McGraw in that email.
Among other initiatives, the command created a suicide prevention working group in 2012, said McGraw and followed that up with a Suicide Prevention Task Force in January.
The task force “is comprised of subject matter experts, clergy, behavioral health professionals, service members who have experienced suicidal ideations, spouses of service members who have committed suicide and other personnel that are closely linked to this challenge,” said McGraw. They are also looking at Pentagon, VA and civilian programs like peer-to-peer counseling and mentoring solutions, said McGraw.