Pentagon health care providers are failing to provide service members identified as a high risk for suicide with the appropriate care, according to a study released Monday by the RAND Corp, reports USA Today.
The study of 39,000 service members found that just 30 percent of those diagnosed with depression and 54 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress are getting the care they need after being identified as high-risk for suicide.
“We want to ensure that they get connected with behavioral health care,” said Kimberly Hepner, senior behavioral scientist at RAND and lead author of the report titled, “Quality of Care for PTSD and Depression in the Military Health System.”
“The most immediate action — removal of firearms — can help to reduce risk of suicide attempts,” said Hepner.
According to the Pentagon, firearms are used in 68 percent of suicides by active duty service members. Hepner noted that this makes talking to the service member about access to firearms a key point of intervention in preventing suicide.
“These can be quite difficult conversations to have with service members,” Hepner said.
“Certainly limiting access to their service weapon would involve notifying their command.”
The study also found that in one in three of these cases, the service member was issued a prescription for benzodiazepine, which is often detrimental to the condition.
Benzodiazepines can interfere with appropriate treatment, negatively mix with alcohol and are highly addictive.
“It is at times easier and more immediate to provide a prescription for benzodiazepine versus helping getting into effective psychotherapy,” Hepner said.
“The report‘s findings and recommendations are being reviewed and will be used to shape our future direction to ensure we are improving patient care,” said Laura Ochoa, a Pentagon spokeswoman.
“We remain committed to providing the best quality mental health care to our patients. We will also continue to make the necessary adjustments and improvements to help those afflicted fully recover."
Roughly 2.6 million service members have deployed to combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq from 2001 to 2014. Estimates of service members affected by PTSD range from 4 to 20 percent, according to the report. Meanwhile, the rate of military suicide doubled between 2005 and 2012.
Mackenzie Wolf is an editorial intern for Military Times.