WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week ordered the Pentagon to improve access to mental health care in an effort to reduce suicide deaths in the military.
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.
Still, that's 519 too many.
Based on Austin's memorandum, the Pentagon will immediately expedite the hiring of behavioral health professionals and improve the scheduling system for appointments.
It will also require military medical facilities to screen for unhealthy levels of alcohol consumption and would make it easier for service members to find help for unhealthy alcohol use.
"While we recognize that suicide has no one single cause and that no single preventative action, treatment, or cure will eliminate suicide altogether, we will exhaust every effort to promote the wellness, health, and morale of our total force, be there for one another and save lives," said Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder.
The majority of suicide deaths among service members -- 64 percent --involved firearms.
Yet, the memo sidestepped a key recommendation having to do with personal firearms safety and regulation.
"That will be something that the working group will examine in further detail and come back to the Secretary with their assessment and their recommendation," said Ryder.
The Pentagon's suicide prevention working group is expected to complete its work by June 2.