A legal technicality is preventing the Pentagon from spending millions of dollars set aside to curb suicides, even as suicide in the ranks is on the rise, a nonprofit advocacy group says.
The Pentagon has not spent much of some $8 million Congress has provided for suicide prevention because the funds are allocated only for “in-house,” or hospital, care — not education and outreach programs, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
The funds, allocated to the Defense Health Program, can be used only after a service member has attempted suicide and is receiving treatment, not before.
“The services should have the authority to spend it on prevention efforts and not just health care delivery,” Charles Curie, a foundation board member, told the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense last week. “Requiring additional funding to be spent on treatment is not going to help get in front of the problem.”
Mr. Curie requested that Congress add clarifying language to the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill that would allow the $8 million to be spent on prevention as well.
“We will make certain that these funds are used for research, for prevention,” said Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii Democrat and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and its subpanel on defense.
“It’s far better … to try to get somebody into counseling than to have to deal with them after they’ve attempted suicide,” Mr. Curie said later in an interview with The Washington Times.
Suicide by active duty service members and reservists is at a record pace — nearly one a day, and is on track to hit record-high numbers this year, after leveling off in the past two years, according to Pentagon statistics.
There were 154 suicides in the first 155 days of this year — 50 percent more than U.S. troops killed in combat in Afghanistan this year and an 18 percent increase from last year, according to statistics first reported by the Associated Press.
The statistics do not include suicide by veterans, which is estimated to be 18 per day.
The Pentagon has increased its focus on military suicides in recent years.
Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said the Pentagon is trying to leverage as much of its resources as it can, but the problem is that each case is different.
“The challenge is that suicide prevention is not a one size fits all,” she said.
“I think the thing we see that really works is when we do involve everybody. This is not just a one-person issue. This is a leadership issue, a community issue, a family issue,” Ms. Garrick said. “At every level, we want to make sure people know how to reach out for help, how to be able to talk to somebody, how to recognize the signs.”