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Military leaders vow to keep fighting suicide epidemic

There was a slight decline in reported suicides between 2020 and 2021. Still, the Sergeant Major of the Army tells lawmakers, "one suicide is too many."

WASHINGTON — Even with declining overall suicide numbers, top enlisted leaders from the U.S. military vow to keep working on the issue.

The leading non-commissioned officers from the various branches of the armed forces told lawmakers on Tuesday much work remains.

"Mental health is a warfighting readiness necessity and we are facing significant mental health challenges," said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea.

The Navy has lost eight sailors at two commands who are believed to have taken their own lives since last April.

Honea told members of the House Appropriations Committee that sailors face a variety of challenges when it comes to mental well-being in accessing the care they need, and in everyday life.

"Affordable housing, food costs, and finding adequate child care remain an enormous stressor within the high cost-of-living fleet concentration areas," he said.

Committee members heard from the other branches about military quality of life issues. Concerns about suicide and mental health were at the top of the list.

"Since 2011, the Marine Corps suicide rate is generally comparable to the U.S. population. However this remains too high and is unacceptable," said Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Troy Black.

Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston said: "Last year, we saw 69 fewer suicides than the year before. However, one suicide is too many."

Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said, "The reality is our nation is short of mental health providers, which means the Department of Defense is, which means the Air Force is."

Overall, the Department of Defense has seen a slight decline in active duty suicides with DOD data showing 519 cases in 2021, compared to 580 cases in 2020.

The DOD's Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee reported last week that 66% of military suicides were carried out using a firearm.

The report contained 127 recommendations, of which 23 received high prioritization, for reducing suicide in the military. Among the recommendations are several involving owning firearms.

The report said the military needs to restrict firearm access in barracks and dorms and institute an age limit and waiting period for gun purchases on bases to combat suicide among service members.

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