Senators Continue Call for Family Suicide Data Release

Silhouette of a woman dealing with depression. (Getty Images)
Silhouette of a woman dealing with depression. (Getty Images)

The Pentagon should show Congress it is actively gathering information on military family member suicides by publicly releasing its findings, staff for a pair of U.S. senators said this week.

Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Tim Kaine of Virginia last week sent a letter to the Defense Department asking why data on suicides among military family members has not been released. The Pentagon was ordered in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to start collecting that information.

But Pentagon officials told Military.com the law ordered them only to issue a policy -- not to create a report.

"DoD has met the requirements of Section 567 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015," Navy Cmdr. Michael Cody, a Pentagon spokesman, said in a statement to Military.com. "This legislation required the Department to issue policy regarding any death reported as a suicide involving a dependent of a member of the Armed Forces, and provide a copy of the policy, instead of report, to Congress."

But a staffer with Murray's office said the senators believe the Pentagon needs to take it a step further.

"The Senators believe that Congress and the American public have waited long enough for that information, and they believe it needs to be made public to fulfill Congress' intent when including the request in the 2015 NDAA," said Kerry Arndt, a Murray spokesperson.

In their July 12 letter to the Pentagon, Murray and Kaine pointed to a recently released Pentagon report on military suicide as evidence that officials still may not be tracking the data sufficiently.

"While the Department made significant progress in the intervening years to address service member suicide, it appears there is still no reliable system across all services for collecting data on dependent suicide," the letter states.

Arndt said the Pentagon has had more than enough time to implement the tracking required in the law and produce a report.

"FY15 NDAA was signed into law on December 19, 2014. The Pentagon was supposed to submit the policy they were directed to create 180 days after that date. Then [they] were required to 'implement the policy' 180 days after that. We have far surpassed that time frame," she said in a statement to Military.com.

Suicides among military family members are notoriously difficult to track, in part because how a family member dies often goes unreported in the military personnel system.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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