Murkowski, Sullivan, Speier Call on Army Secretary to Address High Alaska Servicemember Suicide Rate
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support, and Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel have sent a letter to Army Secretary Christine Wormuth calling on the Army to do more to address the high incidence of service member deaths by suicide in Alaska and to take comprehensive actions to change the current trajectory.
“The rate of suicides among America’s military community is both heartbreaking and gut wrenching. One suicide alone is too many. Even more troubling is that the rate of suicide by those stationed in Alaska is even higher. I’ve heard firsthand from so many servicemen and women in Alaska about the challenges they face—from physical and psychological trauma, isolation, to seasonal depression. We need to do everything in our power to turn this tide and be there for our service members—to get them the proper help they need so suicide is never the answer. This includes working to ensure there are enough mental health providers to serve those who are defending our nation,” Senator Murkowski said. “This is one of my highest priorities and I appreciate working with Representative Speier, Senator Sullivan and others to ensure the military services have the resources to see this through.”
“It is a tragedy that the scourge of suicide disproportionately harms Alaska's military service members and their families,” Senator Sullivan said. “Alaska is home to thousands of military service members and more veterans per capita than any other state. But along with that proud distinction, our state also has horrifically high rates of military suicide. As a Marine, I have seen firsthand what happens when service members suffering from a mental health crisis do not receive help. Even when a service member musters the courage to seek help, it can take 60 days to actually see a professional—and, as we’re seeing, these brave Americans rarely have 60 days. I want to thank Congresswoman Speier and Secretary Wormuth for joining me in Alaska to hear from our soldiers directly. I will continue to fight to keep this issue front-and-center for our service members, for the families who have suffered the unbearable pain of suicide, and for our future generations. Ensuring our service members and their families have access to the resources and support they need to improve their mental health and prevent suicide will continue to be one of my highest priorities in the U.S. Senate. One life lost is one too many.”
“The epidemic of military suicides across America cries out for immediate action, especially in Alaska where twice as many servicemembers died in 2021 compared to 2020. I have spoken previously with the spouses and parents of servicemembers who have died by suicide there, as well as other servicemembers and behavioral health care providers overwhelmed with demand in the region. And I will travel to Alaska later this month, joining Senator Sullivan to review the situation on the ground as part of a congressional delegation,” Representative Speier said. “There are reforms that we can make to fix this, but to do so we must understand clearly what challenges exist and where action must be taken. There is nothing like talking directly to the servicemembers, face to face, to find solutions. We must do this to ensure our servicemembers are getting what they need to stop this senseless loss of lives.”
The letter to Secretary Wormuth asks for the Army’s plans to address several areas of concern based on observations and extensive feedback from service members and civilians in Alaska, including:
- Incentivizing service in Alaska and improving the process to assign soldiers to Alaska installations,
- Offering timely access to behavioral health services,
- Addressing financial pressures on junior enlisted soldiers,
- Mitigating lack of sunlight and Vitamin D deficiency for soldiers assigned to Alaska,
- Better preparing soldiers and their dependents for living in Alaska, and
- Increasing quality of life for stationed soldiers through housing and transportation improvements.
Click here for a copy of the letter.