Military beat: Criticism of military action on suicides

  • Article by: Mark Brunswick
  • Star Tribune
  • November 15, 2011 - 5:44 PM

A recently released report is critical of how the military handles suicides in its ranks.

One section of the report, from the Center for a New American Security, focuses on Guard and Reserve suicides, particularly important in Minnesota, where the Minnesota National Guard has the highest number in the nation.

It suggests the Guard's suicide prevention programs are too decentralized and inefficient. Assessing effectiveness requires "systemic efforts" to understand suicide, "yet these efforts are thwarted by the existence of too many programs," the report says. In addition, programs are at risk of reduction or elimination due to dwindling state resources, the report warns.

"Losing the Battle. The Challenge of Military Suicide," makes recommendations to stem the rate of suicide. In the last two years, more American service members have killed themselves than died in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report says the Army transfers people too soon after a deployment, encouraging instability. It also recommends unit commanders be made aware when a service member faces legal problems and says Congress should work to hire more behavioral health care providers.

Perhaps most controversially, it recommends federal law be changed to allow military leaders to discuss personally owned weapons among service members. A little known part of the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits anyone from collecting information on weapons or ammunition personally owned by members of the armed forces.

"Given this change in law, unit leaders should engage both at-risk service members and their family members, and encourage them to obtain gunlocks or to store privately owned weapons out of the household," the report concludes.

According to the report, 48 percent of military suicides in 2010 took place with personally owned weapons.

For more on the Star Tribune's investigation of military suicides, visit 612-673-4434

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