Suicide office is sought

Wednesday, August 25, 2010; B03

Rushing to stem historically high rates of military suicides, the service branches set up prevention programs that lacked strategic planning and therefore do not work as well as they could, according to a congressional report released Tuesday.

The Pentagon should create a new high-level office to set strategy and coordinate prevention programs across the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, said a task force report ordered by Congress last year.

More than 1,100 members of the armed forces killed themselves from 2005 to 2009, and suicides are rising again this year. The sharpest increases have been in the Army and Marine Corps, the services most stretched by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report, sent to Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, makes 76 specific recommendations.

"The task force commends the armed forces for the suicide prevention initiatives it has undertaken and knows of no other employer that has focused as much attention and resources on suicide prevention," said the report by a 14-member panel of military and civilian doctors as well as other civilians involved in suicide and family issues. "However, the task force found that the current vast expansion of suicide prevention initiatives across the services was developed rapidly and separately by each service for immediate execution."

It said that despite the "extraordinary effort" made by the services to deal with the suicide crisis, the programs "could benefit from re-engineering" because they have some inefficiencies and gaps, in some cases overlap or are not implemented evenly.

-- Associated Press

© 2010 The Washington Post Company