Military Suicide Prevention Should Include Personal Weapon Disclosure, Retired General Suggests

Dec 17, 2012

Suicide is now the number one cause of death for US troops. Nationally, more than two-thirds of suicides of active duty troops involve firearms. Most are personal weapons.

Former vice chief of staff for the Army General Peter Chiarelli wants commanders to have the ability to talk to distressed troop members about their private weapons as part of an effort to reverse the trend.

In an editorial Chiarelli co-wrote for the Washington Post,  he points out a little-known provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that prevents military commanders and non-commissioned officers from asking about their troops’ personal weapons. A new amendment to the 2013 NDAA would reverse that.

Chiarelli says the change could help troop members who may be distressed but are not deemed “high risk” by behavioral health specialists. Chiarelli suggests, "Either that specialist or the commander should have the ability to make a recommendation that they separate themselves from their personal weapons."

Additional recommendations come from a 2011 study on military suicide by the Rand Corporation. The study recommends implementing measures to help limit at-risk soldiers access to guns.

There were 12 suicides among troops stationed at Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord last year. That’s up from 7 in 2010.