Panel finds slowing access to firearms could prevent more military suicides
Delaying gun purchases by service members that take place on military bases could help prevent suicides, an independent panel found, according to a report released Friday.
The final findings of the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee included 127 recommendations, among them, several that were deemed "high priority" in relation to access to firearms.
A very high percentage of military suicides involve firearms, according to Defense Department statistics: 66% of active-duty, 72% of Reserve and 78% of National Guard suicides involve firearms.
The review committee recommends mandating waiting periods on firearms and ammunition bought at military exchanges, restricting possession of privately owned firearms in military barracks and dorms and raising the minimum age of purchasing firearms on Defense Department property to 25 years of age.
"What we learned over the past year was that a significant percentage of on-base suicides involve firearms purchased on base at military exchanges, and so, yes, the motive behind this really is to, in essence, slow down access to firearms," one of the committee members, Dr. Craig Bryan, told reporters on Friday.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin formed the committee last year and tasked it with studying the Defense Department's suicide prevention and response efforts.
Some recommendations focus on mental health care. The committee found a "large supply and demand imbalance" when it comes to receiving and administering care. Because of the scarcity of providers, the current mental health professionals are overburdened.
"The providers on the ground told us that they weren't managing mental health care — they were managing crises," committee member Dr. Rebecca Blais said.
The lack of mental health resources was evident in the Navy's investigation of a suicide last year of a sailor assigned to the USS George Washington. In that investigation, mental health providers for the GW described an "overwhelming" patient volume.
Over the past year, the independent committee visited nine military installations. According to the report, the committee met with 2,939 individuals, including 2,106 military personnel and 692 civilian employees and family members, and their experiences form the basis of the report's findings and recommendations.
The suicide rate for active-duty service members in 2021, the most recent data available, was 24.3 per 100,000 people, which was down from 28.7 in 2020, the highest active-duty suicide rate since the Defense Department started tracking the data in 2011.
The committee found that despite considerable investment in suicide prevention, the suicide rate in the Defense Department has been trending upward over a 15-year period. The committee's work is now done, and the Defense Department will review its recommendations.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress or a suicidal crisis, you can reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988. You can also chat with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline here.
For more information about mental health care resources and support, The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–10 p.m. ET, at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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