Despite six-year suicide high among active duty, military considers medical cutbacks

Elizabeth Howe
February 12, 2019 - 12:21 pm

Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. J.D. Strong II

The Defense Department is cutting 17,000 medical corps personnel including thousands of mental health professionals — right after the military saw the highest number of suicides in six years.

RELATED: Suicides in the Marine Corps highest in 10 years

RELATED: The Army saw a 19 percent increase in active duty suicides

A total of 321 active duty service members completed suicide in 2018 — 57 Marines, 68 sailors, 58 airmen, and 138 soldiers. But, in the interest of bolstering lethality, the Pentagon is considering making significant cuts to the medical corps.

The cuts could go into effect as soon as October 2020, but certain officials and veterans have expressed concern over the timing.

"It's such a difficult problem," one combat wounded veteran told Military.com anonymously so as not to speak on behalf of the VSO he works for. "The [programs] that show the most hope are those where we really get down to small-unit cohesion so that our sailors all feel like, no matter what the situation they may be confronting -- a professional challenge, a personal challenge, whatever, that they are part of some kind of a team."

Operating at the small-unit level will become much more difficult if such significant personnel cuts are made to the medical corps. 

Military officials have stressed that there is no immediate plan to make these cuts — but the consideration is still there. 

"We are deeply concerned about any cuts to mental health and healthcare professionals at DoD, when the demand is still very high.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has made mental health and combatting suicide our top priority, and we are alarmed that DoD is not also making this a top priority," said Jeremy Butler, CEO of IAVA. 

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