For the third straight year, suicides among active-duty members have remained relatively steady, which Pentagon officials say could indicate that suicide-awareness and -prevention programs are hitting their mark.
"This is never a celebration or an 'end zone' kind of thing, but [the numbers] reached a plateau, where you see three years of data that is similar in nature, and are not largely spiking like we saw in 2008, 2009 and again in 2011," Franklin said.
The DSPO, with an annual budget of $24 million, came under fire from the DoD Inspector General in October after the watchdog said that office did not have the power to develop and execute effective programs, which has hampered efforts to implement effective suicide-prevention programs across the Defense Department.
The IG also said that DSPO's strategic plan lacked measures to gauge the success of programs or include timelines for completing goals.
While the military services largely are responsible for creating and implementing their own suicide-prevention programs, the lack of guidance from the top has led to the creation of a number of disparate programs, some of which are not necessarily proven, investigators said.
The DSPO is working to solve the issues spelled out by the IG, including updating its strategic plan, Franklin said.
In the coming weeks, that office will release a new strategy, publish a DoD suicide-prevention instruction and continue promoting military-wide use of the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale, a tool for identifying and assessing suicide risk.
Adam Walsh, a suicide-prevention analyst with DSPO, said these efforts should lead to more effective programs across the services.
"It's very important to have a strategic, unified, comprehensive strategy," Walsh said. "There is some evidence from the World Health Organization that says countries with a unified strategy do a better job of communicating their messaging and having a multifactorial approach to prevent suicide."
From 1998 to 2005, the number of suicides among active-duty troops remained relatively stable, ranging between 140 and 155 each year. Suicide rates, a measure that compares the number with the overall military population, also remained steady, with crude rates hovering between 10.1 and 14.0 per 100,000 among male troops, according to DoD data.
The numbers began climbing in 2005, coinciding with lengthy periods of intense combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But defense officials say their research indicates that societal issues, such as relationship problems, financial stress or employment issues, are present in the majority of active-duty suicides, while deployment has not been shown to be a major factor.
Still, about half the personnel who died in 2013 — the last full year for which DoD published a complete review of military suicides — had deployed at least once.
Walsh said these programs will emphasize proven treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder and combat-related depression, such as cognitive-processing therapy and prolonged exposure therapy.
He said the programs also will focus on emphasizing the importance of seeking help, either the patients themselves or the friends and family members of those who are struggling.
The Military Crisis Line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week; call 800-273-8255 and press 1.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.