ROA Endorses Suicide Prevention Legislation

Ahead of the Senate Armed Services Committee consideration of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2015, ROA this week endorsed U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly’s bipartisan Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014. Donnelly serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is set to work on the NDAA starting on Tuesday, May 20th. Last week, Donnelly introduced the bill with U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) and together they will push for its passage as part of this year’s NDAA.

In a statement, ROA cited the Act's provisions for parity across services and components as a solid first step towards repairing a mental health system that too often fails to provide the tailored research and targeted support Reservists need.

“Today’s citizen warriors sign up for service in the Reserve and Guard with the clear understanding that their duty will carry unique burdens. They understand that they will enter a culture of service and a system of support that is ill-suited for the challenges presented by the duality of their lives in and out of uniform. The staggering rate of suicide among members of America’s Reserve and Guard is the result of ‘one size fits all’ mentality of prevention. Reserve service carries unique burdens and the challenges of post-deployment life and civilian transition are largely misunderstood by a public weary of war and a Congress strapped for cash. Reservists operate outside the cocoon of support found on Active duty installations. The Sexton Act is a solid first step towards providing the tailored research and targeted support our Reservists need and ultimately the parity in service they deserve.”

The distinct impacts of deployment on Reservists and their families is only beginning to be fully understood. The fact is, there are major gaps in service across the board for Reservists and one size simply doesn't fit all when it comes to mental health.

After implementing some 900 different programs to prevent suicide in their ranks, the military’s active duty suicide numbers declined from a record high of 343 in 2012 to 289 in 2013. More than half those came from the active duty side of the Army, the Pentagon’s largest branch. But the fact that last year’s Guard and Reserve suicides—152, up from 140 the previous year— eclipsed active duty numbers is concerning researchers.

ROA reported on this trend last year in a special to The Officer magazine, citing among other bellwethers, statistics from a 2012 issue of the American Journal of Public Health in which a study found:

  • Reservists who had deployed reported higher rates of suicidal thoughts and attempts than active duty personnel who had also been deployed.
  • Among Reservists, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) service was asso-ciated with higher levels of family stress and symptoms of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disor-der (PTSD), and poor mental health limiting normal activities.
  • Significantly more Reservists who served in OIF or OEF showed PTSD symptoms, compared with active duty personnel.