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Seeking help does not end military career

  • Published
  • By Merrie Schilter Lowe
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Throughout September, the nation is observing Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.


Since 2012, the estimated rate of death by suicide across the Department of Defense has remained about the same per 100,000 people – 20 for active duty members, 24 for reservists and 27 for guard members.  The Air Force rate also is estimated at 20 per 100,000 members, according to the DOD Suicide Event Report.


Although DOD offers a wide range of programs to help service members in crisis, a third of the nearly 40,000 people surveyed in 2011 felt that seeking mental health treatment would harm their careers, according to a DOD health behavior survey. 


A 2014 report by the RAND National Defense Research Institute noted that despite the wide range of evidence-based treatments available, the proportion of service members who seek needed treatment remains low. 


But the goal of treatment is to help members, said Capt. Brendon Jones, 60th Medical Group at Travis Air Force Base, California, and the suicide prevention program manager at Travis. 


“Air Force policy is that seeking mental health treatment should not adversely affect one's career in most cases nor have any other negative consequences,” said Jones.  “Additionally, mental health treatment is private health information protected by (privacy laws).”    


In 2015, about 49 percent of those who committed suicide and 66 percent of those who attempted suicide had a mental diagnosis such as depression or adjustment disorder. Although mental health information generally is not shared with a member’s leadership, there are some exceptions, such as when an individual threatens to harm self or others. 


“If one of these exceptions applies, some information may be disclosed but only the minimal information necessary,” said Jones.


If a member is at increased risk for suicide, their commander and first sergeant may be informed and the member may be temporarily placed on a duty limiting profile. The profile may include deployment, reassignment or arming restrictions.


“This is so that the service member can get the mental health services they need as well as ensure that the broader Air Force mission is not adversely affected,” said Jones.  


Once the person’s mental health has sufficiently improved, the person is returned to full duties.   


“The goal of both mental health and command is that the member be returned to full duty status when ready,” said Jones.


Preventing suicides is a primary concern for DOD, which launched its suicide event report in 2008 not only to track suicides, suicide attempts and suicidal-related behaviors across the services, but also to analyze and report suicide-related factors.  


Common factors include relationship, family and financial issues, legal or administrative problems, substance abuse or a history of past abuse, mental health problems, academic and other life failures and a history of suicide attempts.  


At least one of these events factored into 66 percent of suicide cases and 75 percent of suicide attempts from 2012 to 2015. 


Having one or several of these factors does not necessarily mean that a person is suicidal and contemplating self-harm.  However, these events increase the risk of suicidal behaviors when compared with people who have not experienced such events, according to the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.


If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, contact a health care professional or mental health, said Jones. 


People also can call the DOD Peer Support Call and Outreach Center 24/7 at (844) 357-PEER (7337) or text 480-360-6188.  Communications between the member and peer counselors are confidential. 


Other resources include the Military Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255, or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.  To have a confidential online chat session, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at