If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you can confidentially seek assistance via the Military/Veterans Crisis Line by calling 988 and dialing 1, via text at 838255 or chat at http://VeteransCrisisLine.net. You don’t need to be a VA beneficiary to use the service.
During a public interview with a Washington D.C.-based think tank Friday, the Army’s top civilian said the service will soon publish a regulation devoted to standardizing its suicide prevention efforts across the force. It’s long-awaited.
“At the policy level, we have things like a new suicide prevention Army regulation that’s going to be coming out shortly, and a whole suite of training associated with that,” said Army Secretary Christine Wormuth to a moderator from the Center for a New American Security, when asked about the service’s efforts to improve prevention of suicide and other harmful behaviors.
Wormuth highlighted several of those efforts, such as hiring data scientists dedicated to monitoring “prevention-related issues” across the Army. The service has also revamped its training curriculum and issued a series of guides, handbooks and toolkits for addressing suicide.
Army Public Affairs spokeswoman Cynthia O. Smith described the forthcoming regulation as, “one part of a holistic approach to suicide,” detailing how “other initiatives” such as behavioral health readiness and a suicide risk reduction tool, known as R4, which helps, “commanders and first-line leaders on how to conduct risk assessments and have open discussions with soldiers on potential behavioral health issues and/or risk indicators.”
“The Army cares about suicide and takes this problem very seriously,” Smith wrote in an email response Tuesday to an Army Times query. “This issue is top of mind.”
She added that Army senior leaders receive a daily update on soldiers who die by suicide across the active duty, Reserve and Guard components of the service.
Army regulations, though, are written to “ensure uniform compliance with policies” for service-wide efforts that require broader coordination. They’re also authoritative public resources that help readers understand — for any topic — what is supposed to happen, who is responsible for what, and who they can contact.
The suicide prevention program regulation, when complete, will be a capstone to the service’s effort to synchronize its suicide prevention efforts and offer centralized information about toolkits and resources for soldiers in crisis, or for colleagues and commanders who may be trying to help soldiers.
The regulation may also synchronize the Army’s efforts to remedy the broken links and malfunctioning hotlines that critics worry may keep soldiers in need from getting help. After news reports revealed many of the military’s online suicide prevention resources were outdated or broken, lawmakers directed the Defense Department to go through their websites to verify and report the status of their behavioral health webpages.
Smith argued the stakes are too high to rush the document out before it’s ready.
“Given this is our first standalone suicide prevention regulation, we want to ensure we do everything within our power to get the policy right, incorporating lessons learned, and aligning resources where most appropriate,” she said. “However, our attention to detail in no way hinders our ability to provide training, counseling, and support when and where needed.”
Long-promised, not yet delivered
But the regulation has been delayed multiple times since it was first promised in 2020 in a statement to CBS News.
In September 2021, a “Stand-To!” message to the force said, “a revised regulation and pamphlet are scheduled for publication in fall 2021.”
Then an official press release in November 2021 changed that timeline, announcing a “forthcoming Army Suicide Prevention Program regulation scheduled to be published in the first quarter of 2022.”
Meanwhile, the Army experienced back-to-back post-9/11 record years for suicide deaths among active duty soldiers. The Army reported that 174 soldiers died in 2020, and 176 died in 2021, according to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.
For both years, the active duty Army also had the highest suicide rate of any branch of the U.S. military.
A soldier on active duty in the Army was more likely than a member of the Navy, Air Force or Marine Corps to die by suicide. The rates were historically high also — with 2021′s 36.3 suicides per 100,000 soldiers representing the highest rate since 1938, according to a 2019 Journal of the American Medical Association analysis.
Army Times asked about the pending regulation in April after checking a publicly-available status report on the Army Publishing Directorate website, and an Army spokesperson said it would arrive between July and September.
The regulation has yet to publish. Meanwhile, the Army took down the publications status report that Army Times cited in April, making would-be-users sign into military servers using their Common Access Card in order to view it.
An unsigned Oct. 20 press release highlighting the decline of suicide deaths so far in 2022 offered a new timeline for the regulation: “the fourth quarter of calendar year 2022.”
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army. He focuses on investigations, personnel concerns and military justice. Davis, also a Guard veteran, was a finalist in the 2023 Livingston Awards for his work with The Texas Tribune investigating the National Guard's border missions. He studied history at Vanderbilt and UNC-Chapel Hill.