(U.S. Senate) – U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) today led a bipartisan call for the Department of Defense (DoD) to address the increasing suicide rate among members of the National Guard. Recent suicide reports conducted by the DoD found that the suicide mortality rate for the National Guard is consistently higher than that of Active Duty and Reserve members.
In a letter to the Office of Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, the Senators cited potential reasons for the increase in National Guard suicide rates, stemming from problems finding full time employment and a lack of access to quality mental health care, particularly in rural areas, to the institutional and conditional isolation from the broader military community. The Senators emphasized that the unique position of National Guard servicemembers as both soldiers and civilians necessitates tailored solutions for accessing mental health care and community-based support.
“We cannot continue to treat the National Guard as just another branch of the Active Army and Air Force while not paying special attention to their unique needs. We must ensure the National Guard has care and community that is comparable to the Active components,” wrote the Senators. “The National Guard maintains comparable operational tempos but lacks the support of a community that fully empathizes with their unique and sometimes isolating experience of being both soldier and civilian.”
The Senators requested that DoD provide an analysis of the gaps in existing suicide prevention programs and the factors contributing to the discrepancy in National Guard suicide rates.
“We therefore ask that your office prepare a brief no later than December 2019 on the gaps, if any, that remain across Department of Defense, branch-level, or interagency suicide prevention programs for the National Guard. We also ask that you provide an analysis of any explanatory factors contributing to differences in suicide rates between the Active and Reserve Component and the National Guard,” concluded the Senators.
Earlier this year, Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Ranking Member Tester helped introduce the bipartisan Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act alongside Senator Moran, to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserve. Currently, members of the National Guard and Reserves undergo annual health assessments to identify medical issues that could impact their ability to deploy, but any follow-up care is often pursued at their own expense. The Senators’ bipartisan CARE for Reservists Act will authorize DoD to improve Guardsmen and Reservists' access to consistent mental health, regardless of their deployment status.
Tester is also continuing to push the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which takes a comprehensive approach to address mental health care and prevent suicide by ensuring veterans can utilize alternative therapies including yoga, acupuncture, animal therapy, and outdoor sports and recreation therapy.
Read the full letter to Secretary Stewart HERE.