Deputy Defense Secretary underscores DOD's commitment to suicide prevention

  • Published
  • By Joseph Clark
  • DOD News

The Defense Department remains relentlessly committed to the health and welfare of the total force, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said today as she recognized the people behind DOD's suicide prevention efforts.

Providing supportive and protective environments is a top priority at the highest reaches of the Pentagon, Hicks said as she underscored the dedication of those who have worked tirelessly to "spread hope, address stigma and other barriers to care, and drive a healthier culture."

"It takes devoted teams to tackle the difficult subject of suicide prevention," she said. "Over the years, we've understood that we cannot go about this work with a one-size-fits-all approach. Suicide has no single root cause or solution. That's why the department is taking a public health approach — because this problem requires a range of prevention methods and treatment options to get after it."

Hicks joined several top officials — including Gilbert Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness; Elizabeth B. Foster, executive director of the Office of Force Resiliency; Jeffrey R. Register, director of Defense Human Resources Activity; and Liz Clark, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office — in recognizing several units that demonstrated innovation and excellence in suicide prevention during fiscal 2021-2022.

"Today's recipients have been working tirelessly to implement that approach," Hicks said. "They've taken major steps to promote connectedness, belonging and community ... to find creative ways to promote new and available health care options."

Those units receiving the recognition include U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz in Kaiserlautern, Germany; Guam Army National Guard in Barrigada, Guam; Marine Aircraft Group 12 in Iwakuni, Japan; Naval Special Warfare U.S. Special Operations Command in San Diego; and Air Force Air Combat Command jointly with Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton and Newport News, Virginia.

"Our honorees' work on suicide prevention has been more than conceptual," Hicks said. "They've launched campaigns to get the word out on life-changing information. They've organized outreach events to increase awareness. They've helped match people to the community support systems that best suit their needs. And they've nurtured connectedness at every level — from individuals to the squadron, command, and battalion levels — to help save lives.

"These programs, and the people who implement and manage them, have made the fight against suicide a top priority," she said.

In recognition of September as National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, DOD has launched its 2023-2024 annual campaign, titled "Connect to Protect: Support is within Reach."

In his remarks during the recognition ceremony, Cisneros emphasized the importance of establishing healthy connections and relationships in suicide prevention.

"There is often a sense among the military community and among service members that they need to be strong and fully capable at all times," he said. "They believe strength is enduring their lowest moments, and darkest thoughts alone. But nothing could be further from the truth.

"We recognize that asking for help is challenging, but we are making it easier to get help in the military community by creating connections through local programing," he said. "We help by saying we are here for you. We help by creating supportive and protective environments. That is our goal and one which we must continue to strive towards."

While stationed in the 48 contiguous states, service members, veterans and family members in crisis can seek help through the veterans/military crisis line by:

Those stationed outside of the U.S. can access the crisis line by:

  • Calling 00800 1273 8255 or DSN 118 in Europe.
  • Calling 080-855-5118 or DSN 118 in Japan and Korea.
  • Dialing 1-800 273-8255 or DSN 111 in Afghanistan.

To access noncrisis support, service members and their immediate family members can connect with Military OneSource for free access to confidential counseling.

Mental health and counseling services are also available through Tricare.

DOD civilian employees can access resources, information and confidential help by calling 1-866-580-9046.