The objectives of this project were to: 1) evaluate DoD processes used to develop suicide prevention policy and 2) determine what process changes are required to improve suicide prevention and intervention policies and programs, including, but not limited to, resilience, mental health treatment, substance abuse, and postvention in the military.
The observations included in this report were:
- DoD lacked a clearly defined governance structure and alignment of responsibilities for the Defense Suicide Prevention Program. The lack of synchronization between the DoD Directive and DoD committees chartered by the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and Defense Suicide Prevention Office resulted in less than effective DoD strategic oversight of its suicide prevention program and impeded program implementation.
- The Defense Suicide Prevention Office lacked clear processes for planning, directing, guiding, and resourcing to effectively develop and integrate the Suicide Prevention Program within the DoD. In the absence of a fully developed suicide prevention strategic plan, DoD Instruction, and alignment of staff-to-mission priorities, there was no unified and coordinated effort to address suicide prevention across the DoD, and the Services continued to create their own Service-unique suicide prevention initiatives.
- The Defense Suicide Prevention Office did not consistently identify, share, or implement evidence-based suicide prevention best practices across the DoD. Subject matter experts were not used to prioritize and advise on implementation of evidence-based suicide prevention best practices. As a result the DoD did not standardize best practices across the department, and the Services did not take advantage of each others’ knowledge and experiences.
We recommend the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness:
- Revise the Department of Defense Directive 6490.14, “Defense Suicide Prevention Program,” to clearly define and integrate the leadership roles and responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness, Defense Human Resources Agency, and Defense Suicide Prevention Office regarding program strategic oversight, decision making, and action execution.
- Revise and synchronize the Suicide Prevention and Risk Reduction Committee and Suicide Prevention General Officer Steering Committee charters with the Department of Defense Directive 6490.14, “Defense Suicide Prevention Program,” to ensure program governance structure and responsibilities are clearly defined and aligned.
- Subsequently, upon revision of the Department of Defense Directive 6490.14, “Defense Suicide Prevention Program,” (see Recommendation 1a.), develop and publish a comprehensive suicide prevention Department of Defense Instruction.
- Expedite publishing a directive-type memorandum that provides interim Department of Defense suicide prevention guidance.
We recommend the Defense Suicide Prevention Office:
- Develop, publish, monitor, and communicate a comprehensive suicide prevention strategic plan with updated vision, goals, and objectives, and include performance measures and timelines.
- Develop a plan that aligns budgetary and personnel resources to meet mission priorities.
- Develop a research strategy using subject matter expertise to report and analyze evidence-based suicide prevention recommendations for applicability to the Department of Defense.
- Provide an implementation strategy to adapt Department of Defense applicable evidence-based suicide prevention research findings into standard practices across the Department.
Management Comments and Our Response:
We received comments from the Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness. Management agreed in whole or in part to the recommendations.
This report is a result of Project No. D2015-D00SPO-0052.000.