WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI), Chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, and Senator Richard M. Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member of the Veterans' Affairs Committee, called on the Secretaries of Defense and Veterans Affairs, the current acting Co-Chairmen of the DoD/VA Senior Oversight Committee (SOC), to convene a meeting to address the alarming rise in soldier suicides. The Army reported seven confirmed and 17 suspected suicides in January. If the suspected incidents are confirmed, the number of suicides would surpass the number of troops killed in combat last month in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Between 1995 and 2007, there have been over 2,200 suicides among active-duty servicemembers.
"Every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. But the persistent trend of active-duty suicides punctuated by last month's alarming spike suggests something more - an escalating crisis threatening to take even more of our servicemembers if we don't act," said Senator Akaka.
Chairman Akaka and Ranking Member Burr's letter to Secretaries Gates and Shinseki is copied below:
Honorable Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave.
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Gates and Secretary Shinseki,
We are writing to request that you convene the DoD/VA Senior Oversight Committee (SOC), because we are very concerned about the recent reports of increased suicides among active duty servicemembers. Between 1995 and 2007, there have been over 2,200 suicides among active duty servicemembers.
Such loss is unacceptable if there is any measure that can be taken to reduce it. We request that you meet as soon as possible to ensure that both the resources of the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are brought to bear on this problem. The SOC should move immediately to determine whether deficiencies exist in the way potential military personnel are screened, or in the diagnosis or treatment of active duty servicemembers who are suffering from psychological problems.
We believe that convening the SOC to look specifically at suicide prevention is a first and necessary step in a coordinated effort.
Daniel K. Akaka Richard M. Burr
Chairman Ranking Member
February 11, 2009