Last year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III established the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, or SPRIRC, to investigate ways to address and prevent suicide in the military. The Defense Department announced March 16 that the secretary has implemented the first of the recommendations by the committee.
"Secretary Austin is directing multiple, immediate actions following the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee's recommendations and establishing a suicide prevention implementation working group," said Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder during a briefing March 16.
The SPRIRC was directed to provide to the secretary an initial report before the end of 2022. Now that the secretary has reviewed the report, he has directed the department to move ahead on a two-phase approach to implement some of the recommendations it contains.
As part of the first phase, Austin has directed implementation of 10 of the SPRIRC's recommendations. Austin has directed, for instance, that the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness expedite the hiring process for behavioral health professionals.
The secretary has also directed the Defense Health Agency, in coordination with the secretaries of the military departments, to expand the availability of behavioral health care and to also improve processes to enhance access to mental health care.
As part of the second phase of implementation, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness will establish a Suicide Prevention Implementation Working Group.
The working group will, among other things, assess the advisability and feasibility of implementing each of the remaining recommendations by the SPRIRC, identify specific policy and program changes needed to implement each of the remaining recommendations, and provide cost and manpower estimates required to implement each remaining recommendation.
The initial SPRIRC recommendations the SECDEF has directed to be implemented, Ryder said, are those that can be done immediately by the department without any additional authorities. Implementation of additional recommendations will come after consideration by the working group.
"While we recognize that suicide has no single cause, and that no single preventative action, treatment or cure will eliminate suicide altogether, we will exhaust every effort to promote the wellness, health and morale of our total force, be there for one another and save lives," Ryder said.