Republican Kansas Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) joined U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in leading a bipartisan group of Senators in calling on the Department of Defense to address the increasing suicide rate among members of the National Guard. Recent suicide reports conducted by the Department of Defense (DoD), the most recent of which was released last month, found that the suicide mortality rate per capita for the National Guard is consistently higher than that of Active Duty and Reserve members. The senators cited potential reasons for the discrepancy in National Guard suicide rates could stem from problems finding full time employment and a lack of access to quality mental health care, particularly in rural areas, among others. The senators emphasized that the unique position of National Guard service members as both soldiers and civilians necessitates tailored solutions for accessing mental health care and community-based support.
“We cannot continue to treat the National Guard as just another branch of the Active Army and Air Force while not paying special attention to their unique needs. We must ensure the National Guard has care and community that is comparable to the Active components,” wrote the senators. “The National Guard maintains comparable operational tempos but lacks the support of a community that fully empathizes with their unique and sometimes isolating experience of being both soldier and civilian.” The senators requested that the DoD provide an analysis of the gaps in existing suicide prevention programs and the factors contributing to the discrepancy in National Guard suicide rates.
“We therefore ask that your office prepare a brief no later than December 2019 on the gaps, if any, that remain across Department of Defense, branch-level, or interagency suicide prevention programs for the National Guard. We also ask that you provide an analysis of any explanatory factors contributing to differences in suicide rates between the Active and Reserve Component and the National Guard,” concluded the senators.
The letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).