Military Times

Pentagon's suicide reports fall short, watchdog says

The Pentagon's annual analysis of military suicides contains gaps in information that likely hampers the Defense Department's understanding of the complex problem of suicide, the DoD Inspector General found.

Since 2008, DoD has published a Suicide Event Report — a comprehensive analysis of all suicides and suicide attempts conducted by active-duty personnel in a calendar year.

The report, based on data gathered from medical examiners, military criminal investigators, financial records, medical and personnel records, and interviews, are meant to provide details on the circumstances under which troops end their lives, with an aim to understand the problem and develop effective prevention programs.

But according to the DoDIG, of the 287 cases detailed in the 2011 report, a quarter lacked more than 50 percent of the information that makes up a complete case report.

In fact, key questions like "Did the decent have a family history of mental illness" and "Was the decedent seen by a military treatment facility?" prior to the event went unanswered more than half the time.

The IG noted that the data often went uncollected because some processors submitted the reports prematurely, before the 60 days required by the DoD after the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's death report is issued. Those developing the reports often didn't seek out subject matter experts to answer some of the questions and weren't qualified to answer them themselves and instead left them blank, according to the IG.

The IG made several recommendations for the Pentagon to improve the reports, from clarifying questions for those conducting the investigation to allowing time to gather the data.

The investigators also recommended improving coordination with the Veterans Affairs Department on exchanging information, including allowing Military Crisis Line counselors to access to DoD health records.

The IG noted that accurate DoDSER data could improve the Pentagon's suicide prevention programs.

"Incomplete and/or inaccurate DoDSER data prevents detailed analysis of suicide risk factors and limits senior leaders and policy makers' ability to make informed decisions on suicide prevention and intervention programs," the report stated.

The Pentagon began reporting its suicide statistics for all the services by quarter this year, and in September, published the data for the first quarter of 2014. There were 74 suicides among the active duty from January through March 2014, including 28 soldiers, 19 airmen, 16 sailors and 11 Marines.

The reserve component saw 24 suicides, while there were 22 in the National Guard in the first quarter.

The Pentagon released the 2012 DoD Suicide Event Report in April. The 2013 report has not been published but is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The Defense Department generates the DoDSER for its own use, intended to further understanding of the issue of military suicide. It is not a congressionally mandated report.

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