SEC Helps Fight Army’s Spike in Soldier Suicides

The same software securing the U.S. Army's command and control systems in Iraq and Afghanistan also secures the transmission of Soldier medical data in Virginia, according to the CECOM Software Engineering Center. SEC is working with the Chief Information Office/G6, accomplished this for one of the Army's most critical efforts--suicide prevention.

In response to Army suicide rates spiking to their highest levels in history, the Army created the Suicide Prevention Task Force to study all of the Army's recent suicide cases to find "commonalities" and ultimately provide Army leaders with a menu of tools to identify and help at-risk Soldiers. "To facilitate the extensive data requirements needed to complete the proposed study, we requested SEC's subject expertise to assist in the mammoth data gathering process," said Cliff Daus, chief, Information Architecture Division Army Architecture Integration Center, U.S. Army CIO/G6.

Taskforce researchers determined data would need to be collected from more than 20 distinct Army organizations to identify, isolate and analyze as many Soldier characteristics as possible, including standard medical records, deployment data, injury statistics and training records, along with any information regarding corrective actions and substance use. This data enabled researchers to assess the Soldier holistically, developing common suicide risk factors and possible resilience characteristics.

The U.S. Army Public Health Command, USAPHC, was selected to extract the data from the different sources.

"Although each source maintained various aspects of a Soldier's complete record, they all maintained the Soldier's social security number in some format," said Chris Weir, Information Technology specialist with USAPHC. The problem was the data format often varied (i.e. with or without dashes, leading zeros, and how to handle alpha characters), making a simple one-for-one match difficult or impossible between systems.

"We defined a common information exchange specification identifying all the ways a social security number could be expressed and explaining how each data partner should transmit the social security number data back to the USAPHC, essentially creating a common phrase book for all of the data providers to use in order to have an effective conversation," said Mark Hosson, Director of the SEC Enterprise Solutions Directorate.

After USAPHC and the data providers could speak a common language, at least about the social security numbers, SEC had to enable a connection between the USAPHC and each data provider allowing the data to be transmitted. "In a world of unlimited resources, each data provider could write their own software program to receive, process and transmit the data to USAPHC, said Hosson. "However, this is cost and time prohibitive. Instead we used our Data Services Division's Common Data Services Framework."

CDSF is built upon service oriented architecture, meaning it creates a structure allowing the client (in this case, USAPHC) to engage with and receive data from multiple services such as the the various data providers. This enabled each of the various entities to implement software that both conformed to the common information exchange specification and also complied with Army guidelines like DSL-A and UCore. "SEC also found that by instituting an iterative approach, real cost benefits could be realized as the lessons learned were applied to later implementations of the CDSF tool," said Hosson. "Additionally, our Data Services Division experts honed their expertise in net-centric solutions, allowing the team to integrate even more efficiencies as efforts continued."

Once completed, SEC helped deploy the new software onto Army networks, enabling the data providers to make their new data services available. "Since real Soldier data was about to be exchanged, the team took a cue from our Warfighter mission colleagues, protecting the individual Soldier data by deploying the Tactical Service Security System," said Hosson. Developed to support the Program Manager Battle Command, SEC's TS3 is a highly portable security solution for web services that secures, encrypts and re-secures all layers of data transmission on the battlefield, ensuring only those authorized to see or receive specific data are allowed access. "Not only did TS3 provide a significant cost savings, but it also showed the strengths derived when institutional and operational Army organizations work collaboratively to solve problems," said Hosson.

The Suicide Prevention Task Force study gave rise to the Health Promotion Risk Reduction Task Force, HPRR. The HPRR Task Force has been working to promote resiliency in a force that has been at war for a decade. HPRR benefits from an improved understanding of characteristics of at-risk Soldiers and broadened programs in place to assist them as they transition to new environments and circumstances throughout their tenure with the Army. SEC's participation in the HPRR's mission positioned the Army to create successful data sharing solutions such as the much anticipated Commander's Dashboard, to expose risk indicators in real-time to commanders in the field.

SEC's Data Services Division continues to build upon its success with the Army's Suicide Prevention Task Force data initiative, providing real solutions and results to numerous mission areas and domains including the U.S. Army's Enterprise Management Decision Support and Condition-Based Maintenance Plus and the Defense Information Systems Agency's Enterprise Collaboration Services. Data Services Division experts stand ready with their team of experts, data services tools and development framework to help disparate systems communicate with each other and help the Army and DoD achieve its net-centricity goals and support the needs of the Warfighter.

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