By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (May 17, 2022) -- In March, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced the establishment of a Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee to address suicides in the U.S. military. Today, the department announced that Dr. Gayle Iwamasa of the Department of Veterans Affairs will lead the committee.
Iwamasa will lead a team of nine, which includes an expert on sexual assault and suicide, an epidemiologist, an expert on substance abuse, retired military personnel, a public health expert and a retired military chaplain.
"The committee members are in Washington this week to begin their work and in July they will start visits to the installations that were named in the onsite installation evaluation report back in March," Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said during a briefing today. "The review of these initial installations will yield recommendations for the department that can be applied across our force."
Kirby said the committee's initial report is due to the secretary in December, and their final report and recommendations are due to Congress in February 2023.
As part of their work, committee members will conduct a comprehensive review of the department's efforts to address and prevent suicide. This will involve visits to military installations, focus groups, individual interviews and a confidential survey of service members at the designated locations.
Committee members will visit an array of installations both inside the U.S. and overseas. Included among those installations are Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada; Fort Campbell, Kentucky; Naval Air Station North Island, California; the North Carolina National Guard; Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Camp Humphreys, South Korea. Committee members will also visit three facilities in Alaska.
Deliverables from the committee include both a report to the secretary of defense and to the congressional armed services committees. The reports will detail actionable improvements to policies, programs, processes and resources to prevent suicides in the military.
"We have the strongest military in the world because we have the strongest team in the world," Austin wrote in March in a memorandum that directed the establishment of the committee. "It is imperative that we take care of all our teammates and continue to reinforce that mental health and suicide prevention remain a key priority. One death by suicide is one too many. And suicide rates among our service members are still too high. So, clearly we have more work to do."