House Legislators Push for More Detail in DOD Suicide Reporting

The House Armed Services military personnel subcommittee wants to require the Defense Department to include more detail in its annual military suicide reports to Congress, including what steps military departments are taking to make it feel less controversial for troops to ask for help if they’re struggling with issues of mental health or considering suicide.

Currently, the Defense Secretary is required to send the House and Senate Armed Service Committees an annual report on service-member suicides. According to the fiscal 2020 NDAA, among other data, these reports must include how many “suicides, attempted suicides, and known cases of suicidal ideation” involving U.S. troops in the military’s Active-duty and reserve components occurred in the year leading up to the report’s publication date. They must also detail how many of these events happened within a service member’s first 180 days in uniform, and how many took place while a service member was “deployed in support of a contingency operation.”

The subcommittee’s proposed markup of the fiscal 2021 NDAA adds a third item to that breakdown: How many of these events occurred within one year of a service member returning from a deployment.

The markup also adds a requirement to report the number of suicides involving troops who were prescribed medication for mental or behavioral health conditions in the yearlong period leading up to the deaths.

Finally, the markup requires these reports to include an explanation of military department efforts to tackle and diminish “the stigma associated with seeking assistance for mental health or suicidal thoughts,” according to the proposed policy language.

Aside from these congressional reports, DOD currently reports on suicide in multiple ways, including:

  • Quarterly reports with service-provided data; 
  • The encyclopaedic Department of Defense Suicide Event Report (or DoDSER), which is published annually, but has currency issues due to the time it takes to collect, aggregate, and breakdown its extensive data; and
  • the Annual Suicide Report, which was introduced in summer 2019 and provides info on suicide totals and rates sans the extensive context of the DoDSER to serve as a more immediate snapshot of suicide’s impact on U.S. troops.

In August 2019, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein announced a service-wide resilience tactical pause to give commanders the opportunity to have conversations around suicide prevention following a sharp influx in the number of Airmen who took their own lives.

Despite this effort, however, the Air Force lost 137 Airmen to suicide last year, a 33-percent jump over 2018, Air Force Magazine previously reported.