Mental health expert to lead military suicide prevention review

A mental health expert who serves at the Department of Veterans Affairs will lead a nine-person team to investigate military suicides, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.

Why is this important: Dr. Gayle Iwamasa and a team including experts in substance abuse, sexual assault and other fields will take a “public health approach” to reviewing military suicides, the Department of Defense said. Suicides among active duty service members have risen dramatically in recent years.

Background: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin first announced the formation of the committee in March. Members will also include a suicide expert, an epidemiologist, retired military personnel, a public health expert and a retired military chaplain.

The committee will review DOD’s efforts to treat and prevent suicide. Members will visit military installations and conduct focus groups, interviews and a confidential survey of service members.

  • They “will be supported by consultants who will add critical perspectives in the areas of officer and enlisted leadership, the needs and perspectives of our military families, and the role of chaplains in suicide prevention.”
  • The committee will aim to “detail achievable improvements to policies, programs, processes and resources to prevent suicides in the military.”

The big picture: Suicide rates among the US military rose 41.4% between 2015 and 2020, according to a DOD report released last year.

State of play: Committee members are in DC this week to begin their work and will begin visiting military installations in July, DOD Press Secretary John Kirby said during a Tuesday briefing.

What to watch: The panel’s first report is due in Austin in December, and its final report and recommendations are due to Congress in February 2023.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (Spanish: 1-888-628-9454; deaf and hard of hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.