Vice chief of staff testifies to lawmakers about suicide prevention programs

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Amaani Lyle
  • Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs
The Air Force continues to closely monitor suicide trends and heighten awareness with modern preventative tools that address the total psychological health of Airmen and civilians, the Air Force's second-highest ranking military officer said on Capitol Hill July 29. 

Alongside his sister service counterparts, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. William Fraser testified before the House Armed Services Committee about current Air Force suicide statistics and the total force approach to counter those numbers through the Air Force Suicide Prevention Program. 

"The tragedy of suicide has the potential to strike across our Air Force and is not limited to Airmen who have deployed or will deploy," said General Fraser, "Nor is it bound by rank, gender, ethnicity or geography." 

First implemented in 1997, the AFSPP is a benchmarked effort in suicide prevention and remains one of only 12 evidence-based suicide prevention programs identified by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, General Fraser noted in his testimony. 

Among the 11 components that collectively comprise the AFSPP are community education, training, and the Suicide Event Surveillance System, a central database that tracks suicide events and helps analyze potential risk factors for suicide in Airmen. 

Although Air Force officials said the highest suicide risk category is 21 to 25-year-old male E-1 through E-4s, statistics also reflect most suicide victims seen in mental health clinics had relationship problems, suffered alcohol abuse or had difficulty adjusting to life's stressors. 

Air Force community and family readiness outreach, pre- and post-deployment health reassessments, and chaplaincy intervention such as the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training are among the myriad ways the Air Force cares for Airmen and their families, said Mr. Tim Beyland, assistant deputy chief of staff for manpower and personnel. 

"It's important that we continue to minimize the stigma that seeking help from our mental health professionals will negatively affect an Airman's career, whether they're active duty, Guard or Reserve," Mr. Beyland said. "In mission readiness psychological and spiritual health are just as critical as physical health." 

General Fraser testified that the Air Force "is proceeding deliberately with programs and policies designed to improve Airmen's psychological health, collectively and individually." 

The general added and that the service works closely with Department of Defense and Veteran's Administration counterparts to ensure a continuity of care and treatment options. 

"Caring for our Airmen is a moral duty that we require of ourselves and that the nation expects," General Fraser said.