Will DoD study suicides of military family members?

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By Jeremy Schwartz,

Two weeks after a murder-suicide at Fort Hood left an Army husband and his two young daughters dead, the Department of Defense says it’s possible, and fairly inexpensive, to track suicides of military dependents. The military has extensively studied suicide patterns among service members, but far less is known about suicide among their spouses and children, despite warnings that such deaths are on the rise.

After the Jan. 21 murder-suicide at Fort Hood, representatives with the National Military Family Association told the Statesman that suicides among military wives, husbands and children appear to be up, but that not enough study has been done on the issue. “Anecdotally, we have heard that suicide rates among military families have increased,” Karen Ruedisueli, deputy director of government relations for the association said. “As deployments decrease, people may think that behavioral health resources for families are no longer needed. The residual effects will be long-lasting.”

The Department of Defense, in a report submitted to the congressional armed services committees and released to the media Wednesday, said tracking suicides of military dependents could help bolster “suicide prevention and reslience programs and policies that specifically target military family members.”

Military officials said it would cost $681,600 in the first year and $502,200 in subsequent years to use existing data from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics to build a database.

Officials cautioned that there are limitations to such tracking, which Congress would need to authorize. The military defines family members as spouses and children who are eligible for Department of Defense benefits. Because the military relies on service members to update that information, “a divorced dependent’s death, for example, may not be captured accurately,” the report said. Foreign-born spouses who die overseas also would not be captured in the CDC’s health stats.

Army officials have released few details, including cause of death, in the Jan. 21 deaths of 43-year-old Rouhad Ahamd Ezzeddine, and his two daughters, 9-year-old Leila Rouhad Ezzeddine and 4-year-old Zeinab Rouhad Ezzeddine. Lebanese press accounts said the man hailed from Kafra, in southern Lebanon. The man’s wife — the girls’ mother — Pfc. Carla Santistban, had returned to Fort Hood that same day from a deployment in Afghanistan, according to her Facebook posts. Three days earlier she had posted a message while en route to Fort Hood: “Home is not Home without ‘MOM.’”

By Jeremy Schwartz,

Editor’s note: This article was originally published February 5, 2014