DoD Evaluates Tracking of Military Family Member Suicides

woman standing by grave

The Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) released a report outlining an approach for tracking military family member suicides. The report, Suicide and Military Families: A Report on the Feasibility of Tracking Deaths by Suicide among Military Family Members, was requested by the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

The National Military Family Association appreciates that DSPO has identified a methodology for tracking military family member suicides. Anecdotal reports indicate the number of military family suicides is growing. We cannot address the problem until we know its extent. One of our Association’s 2013 legislative priorities was mandated Department of Defense (DoD) tracking and reporting on military family member suicides. Identifying a methodology is an important first step in accomplishing this goal.

DSPO’s approach will identify military family member suicides by linking Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) data on military dependents to Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data on cause of death information. Military dependent suicide data would then be aggregated into the existing DoD Suicide Data Repository. This methodology allows DoD to review back data, enabling visibility to military dependent suicide trends from 1983 forward.

The most significant limitation to this approach is that it tracks only suicides of military dependents, typically spouses and children, and not other family members such as parents and siblings.

DSPO estimates it will take approximately 18-24 months to complete the project. Costs would be $681,600 in the initial year and $502,200 in subsequent years.The National Military Family Association strongly urges Congress to fund ongoing tracking of military family member suicides. We believe an analysis of this issue will provide a better understanding of military family readiness and another measure of the impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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