Politics Shaun Knittel — 20 September 2012
Military has Suicide Prevention Fund Surplus

By Shaun Knittel
Online News Editor

Congressman Jim McDermott (WA-7) and Congressman Leonard Boswell (IA-3) urged leaders of the U.S. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee this week, to work with them in getting the Pentagon to use all of its unspent suicide prevention funds to reach more service members as soon as possible, and to go even further with higher funding next year.

In July, the McDermott-Boswell amendment that would increase critical funding for suicide prevention for active duty military by $10 million passed with strong support in the House Defense Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2013.

“The Pentagon hasn’t spent the money that it has for suicide prevention for this year – and that money wasn’t nearly enough money to reach all the soldiers who need help. Now we are hearing about bureaucratic technicalities at the Pentagon that are preventing them from acting. This is unconscionable,” said Congressman McDermott. “The Pentagon is funded to help soldiers and needs to do much more on the epidemic of suicides. As we commemorate National Suicide Prevention Week, we are calling on the Pentagon to move much faster.”

Congressman Boswell added, “We lose a soldier to suicide every day, a record pace that is driving the number of military suicides to all-time highs. As I said on the House floor in July, this is a national epidemic that requires immediate Congressional action to provide the necessary resources to prevent these tragedies from happening. With this year’s defense appropriations legislation at a standstill, and only days remaining in the legislative calendar, we urge leaders to act on freeing up the existing funds for soldier suicide prevention and outreach.”

Last year, Congress increased program funding by more than $8 million for suicide prevention under the Defense Health Program. However, a hearing held by the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense in June revealed that the additional funding remains largely unspent.

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Testifying on behalf of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, witness Charles Curie explained that these funds “must be used for healthcare delivery programs and services and not for education and training or research and development programs.”

He went on to say:

Requiring additional funding to be spent on treatment is not going help the Services get in “front” of this problem. The Services should have the authority to spend it on “program evaluation” and prevention efforts and not just on healthcare delivery.

Therefore, AFSP requests that this Committee add clarifying language to the FY 13 Defense Appropriations bill that would allow for these dollars to be spent on pre-medical related prevention, education, and outreach programs.

Several weeks ago, the Army released suicide data for the month of July indicating the highest one-month tally of suicides in recent Army history.

“At a time when the suicide rate for active duty service members and reservists is at an all-time high, it is unconscionable that we would allow a technicality to block funds that could be used to strengthen outreach and prevention,” Boswell and McDermott said in their September 13 letter to leaders of the U.S. House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

“With legislation stalled in the Senate and little time remaining on the legislative calendar, we ask for your immediate attention to this matter If we can enable these funds to more quickly facilitate programs for prevention, education and outreach, then we urge you to push to include clarifying language in the continuing resolution,” Boswell and McDermott concluded. “We cannot wait until after the election to help the heroes get the assistance they deserve.”


About Author

Shaun Knittel

Shaun Knittel is an openly gay journalist living in Seattle, WA. He spent 10 years working in U.S. Navy public affairs and is a veteran of the Iraq war and war on terror. His work as a writer, editor, and photographer has appeared in noiZe Magazine, OutMilitary.com Blog, EDGE Media Network, Rising Republic Magazine, Star & Stripes, and more. Knittel currently serves as the Associate Editor for Seattle Gay News, Seattle's LGBT News & Entertainment weekly, and as the News Editor at OutServe Magazine. See more from this contributor.

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