Officers and even Army officials expressed disappointment in the service’s official suicide prevention regulation, quietly released earlier in August, according to Military.com.
The policy goes into effect Sept. 8, nearly three years after the Army initially promised to rewrite suicide prevention doctrine to provide clear guidance to commanders on how respond to subordinates displaying a risk of suicide, according to Military.com. Behind the scenes, soldiers and Army officials acknowledged the policy falls short of expectations and could leave leaders uncertain when and how to intervene in the cases of at-risk soldiers, suicide attempts and deaths as the Army continues to struggle.
“This isn’t a serious answer to what I’m seeing,” one command sergeant major told Military.com on condition of anonymity to avoid retaliation.
“What are those immediate steps a junior leader takes when their soldier is in trouble? We’re getting a bit lost in the sauce,” he said.
Forty-nine soldiers died by suicide in the first three months of 2023, according to the Department of Defense’s latest report. At least 255 soldiers took their own lives in 2022.
The Army has released dozens of pamphlets, PowerPoints and other resources to inform suicide prevention across the force, but the new guidance is the first effort to consolidate the materials into a comprehensive plan, according to Military.com. Individual units and installations have implemented their own guidance, sometimes leaving company-level commanders without formal training to make decisions about mental health assessments, leave or to simply check up on their soldiers.
The new doctrine outlines risk factors and warning signs, as well as steps to mitigate them. Intervention focuses on “preventing a life crisis or stressor … from leading to suicidal behavior” and reducing barriers to seeking help, according to the document.
“It’s about the layers that are influencing the individual,” one Army official with firsthand knowledge of the process leading to the policy told Military.com on condition of anonymity. “We’re identifying those risk factors. … This is the first time in a suicide reg [regulation] we’re talking a bit broader.”
Lt. Gen. Evans and Brig. Gen. Driggers proclaim September of 2023 as Suicide Prevention Month! They both are committed to addressing suicide throughout the Joint Base San Antonio community!#ConnectToProtect #SuicidePrevention #BeThere pic.twitter.com/V80IJur8W3
— U.S. Army North #JFLCCresponds (@USArmyNorth) August 23, 2023
Nowhere does the policy explain in detail how commanders could best intervene if someone does express suicidal ideation.
Army officials said those who crafted the policy did not want to create a blanket doctrine that would overshadow the unique aspects of each case, Military.com reported. Multiple Army officials regretted it contains little practical guidance for units dealing with what seem to be suicide epidemics.
One official said it “wasn’t well thought-out,” noting the policy uses a form with outdated language and notes perpetrating abuse could constitute a “shame event” leading to suicidal ideation, but not being a victim of abuse.
It also doesn’t address social media, where many soldiers go to ask for help.
“This regulation is a step in the right direction; at the same time, we’re cognizant this isn’t the be-all, end-all. We have more work to do,” one Army official told Military.com on condition of anonymity, noting the subtle release was intentional.
The Army did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
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