WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered a number of improvements in access to mental health care on Thursday to reduce suicides in the military, but held off on endorsing more controversial recommendations to restrict gun and ammunition purchases by young troops, sending them to another panel for study.
An independent committee in late February recommended that the Defense Department implement a series of gun safety measures, including waiting periods for the purchase of firearms and ammunition by service members on military property and raising the minimum age for service members to buy guns and ammunition to 25.
In a memo released Thursday, Austin called for the establishment of a suicide prevention working group to “assess the advisability and feasibility” of recommendations made by the initial study committee — which would include the gun measures. He also asked for cost estimates and a description of any “barriers” to implementing other changes, and set a deadline of June 2 for that report.
His orders reflect increasing concerns about suicides in the military, despite more than a decade of programs and other efforts to prevent them and spur greater intervention by commanders, friends and family members. But his omission of any gun safety and control measures underscores the likelihood that they would face staunch resistance, particularly in Congress.
The more immediate changes address broader access to care.
To more quickly provide help for troops who may be struggling, Austin directed the Pentagon to hire more behavioral health specialists and implement a scheduling system for appointments where patients receive multiple health care visits weekly when they first seek care.