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Sen. Sullivan joins California lawmaker in listening session to target solution to Alaska’s active duty suicide rates

Sen. Sullivan joins group of politicians in search of answers to Alaska’s active duty suicide rates
Published: Apr. 29, 2022 at 1:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska has seen a spike in active duty military members committing suicide during the last several years.

On April 20 and 21, Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan and California Rep. Jackie Speier spoke to armed force members at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and Fort Wainwright military bases. Their trip focused on the alarming military suicide rate seen in the U.S.

“We have an acute suicide problem with our incredible active-duty force in Alaska,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan pointed to Alaska’s alarming statistics when it comes to active-duty members — from 2018 to 2021, the state saw a total of 29 military deaths linked to suicide, according to data from the U.S. Army Alaska. Sullivan said the number over the “last four years” was 40.

“That’s more members of the military killed by suicide than killed in action in Afghanistan during that same time,” Sullivan said.

The two held listening sessions at the base with military members, family members and behavioral therapists. Sullivan said their goal is to be able to get a better understanding of what goes on inside the gates and the impact it has had on military personnel.

“There’s no question that we are inadequately staffed in terms of the services necessary to provide both acute care and sub-acute care to service members who are suffering from suicidal ideation,” Speier said.

According to Speier, there is a lack of mental health professionals for military members when they are needed.

“No service member should have to wait a day, let alone two months to get an appointment,” Speier said.

Sullivan agreed with Speier, stating his main takeaway from the listening sessions was that there is a further need for mental health resources for the military community.

“We’ve been trying to send the message, hey, it shouldn’t be a stigma, if you were in the military you’ve been working hard, deploying a lot. that if you have mental health challenges you should seek help, and then when they do it, they are told that it’s three to six months before they can get an appointment,” Sullivan said.

Speier called the situation a “code blue” warning, a “wake-up call” for mental health accessibility in the military.

If you are considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or Stop Suicide Alaska at 1-877-266-HELP.

Clarification: this story has been updated to reflect that the 29 deaths linked to suicide in Alaska between 2018-2021 were military deaths.

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