At Hearing, Warren Secures Commitment from Army Chief of Staff Nominee to Prioritize Suicide Prevention in Military
“The Army was originally supposed to issue new suicide prevention regulations in the fall of 2021. Nearly two years later it’s failed to do so, and our servicemembers are suffering.”
Washington, D.C. – At a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Chair of the Subcommittee on Personnel, raised concerns about the increasing number of suicides among active-duty soldiers with General Randy A. George, nominee to be chief of staff of the Army.
In the first quarter of 2023, 49 active duty soldiers took their own lives, the highest first quarter number since DoD first started collecting this data a decade ago. Senator Warren noted that preventing and responding to sexual harassment or assault, as well as addressing critical shortages of behavioral health professions are crucial to suicide prevention, and secured General George’s commitment to advocate for issuing and implementing regulations to address suicide prevention in the Army and across the military.
Senator Warren highlighted Massachusetts’ Home Base program, which provides treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression as well as treatment for the complicated grief of loved ones whose service member or veteran has died by suicide, as a model program that should be emulated across the country. In February 2023, Senator Warren joined Massachusetts General Hospital and Home Base leadership to celebrate $5 million in federal funding she and lawmakers secured for Home Base’s clinical programs.
Transcript: General Randy A. George, USA for reappointment to the grade of general and to be Chief of Staff of the Army
U.S. Senate Committee on Armed Services
July 12, 2022
Senator Elizabeth Warren: I am deeply concerned about the increasing number of suicides that we're seeing among active duty soldiers. In the first quarter of 2023, 49 active duty soldiers took their own lives. That is the highest first quarter number since DoD first started collecting these data a decade ago.
Now, the Army has studied this problem a lot. But it hasn't acted with enough urgency. From 2019 to 2022, the Army sponsored 47 studies addressing suicide. However, an Army audit obtained by the Project On Government Oversight found that nearly 90% of those studies, “didn't have any actionable recommendations or recommended only more research.” Nearly 90% of them. And for the few studies that did have actionable recommendations, the Army did nothing. Now, the Army was originally supposed to issue new suicide prevention regulations in the fall of 2021, nearly two years after that deadline it is still failed to do so, and our servicemembers are suffering.
So General George, if you are confirmed, can I count on you to help get these regs out? And even more importantly, to help get these regs implemented in order to address the suicide crisis in our military?
General Randy A. George, Nominee, Chief of Staff of the Army: Yes senator.
Senator Warren: Good.
General George: Can I talk? Can I say a couple of things about that?
Senator Warren: You sure can, you sure can.
General George: Just in my experience as a commander, it wasn't necessarily the regulation–
Senator Warren: Fair enough.
General George: –that made the difference for me. It was, you know, getting the resources and then command emphasis. And that's what we have to do. And right now, we're doing what we call a building cohesive teams update. And I always talk about, every location’s a little bit different, and I always give the example of Alaska versus Fort Irwin versus now Fort Liberty. Very different, they’re facing different challenges. And I think that that's what we're trying to do is focus, one of the things that we've learned from, we’ll take things that work.
But in Alaska, they're doing something called Mission 100, which is basically getting somebody to talk to a counselor, immediately. Everybody has to do that within the year. Because what we're finding is a lot of these problems aren't necessarily, you know, behavioral health problems, they are relationship issues, financial issues. I think we’ve got to look at this to health and holistic fitness, our health and holistic fitness, where we've fielded that in the brigades, we have seen, you know, reductions in behavioral health and in suicides. And so again, I think it's, that's what we have to focus on are the end results, and we're not happy with where we're at.
Senator Warren: And I appreciate the attention that you have paid to this, and I have every confidence, you will continue to do this. But I just want to be able to say quite publicly, you and I, this has got to be a priority for the army and seeing these first quarter numbers is truly alarming. You know, one other thing that we know, you raise several factors can contribute to suicide. Another one we know is failure to respond to sexual harassment or assault. So General George, do you agree that addressing sexual assault and harassment should be part of the solution to suicide prevention programs at DoD?
General George: Senator, I think all of that is yes, is a part of that if you're having. So first, it's prevention of those kinds of things that we have to focus on. And then in the response, absolutely making sure that we're taking care of the victim.
Senator Warren: I appreciate that. You know, we don't have suicide prevention regulations yet. But we do have recommendations from what's called the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, and one of the shortfalls it identified at a report earlier this year is the critical shortage of behavioral health professionals. Do you agree that one tool in addressing these shortages could involve the Army working with servicemembers to facilitate access to whatever care can help them whether it's directly through DoD or outside DoD?
General George: Yes, senator, I agree with that. And like I said before, I think what we're trying to do is, if it's specifically, I think there's a national shortage in behavioral health specialist, so what we want to do is make sure that we're triaging and you know, people who need the behavioral health actually get that –
Senator Warren: Good.
General George: And if somebody has a financial issue or relationship issue, they're talking to somebody.
Senator Warren: I appreciate that. I just want to mention that in Massachusetts, we have the Home Base program, which is making a big difference to servicemembers and their families. They provide treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, as well as for the complicated grief of loved ones who have lost a servicemember or a veteran to suicide. And it provides an opportunity for servicemembers to get the help they need without worrying about the stigma of seeking help through DoD instead. So I want us to do everything we can in this area, and I look forward to having a chance to work with you. Thank you, General George.
General George: Thank you, senator. I look forward to getting up to see home base in Natick and everything else.
Senator Warren: Good, I’m going to hold you to that.
General George: Thank you, senator.
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