Washington, DC – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), Chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel, celebrated today’s passage of her legislation to address the alarming increase in servicemember suicides in the FY23 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Chair Speier’s provisions, many of them taken from the Don Young Arctic Warrior Act, will address numerous underlying factors that have contributed to a rise in suicides by military personnel throughout the armed forces and especially in Alaska, where the number of soldiers who died by suicide doubled in 2021 compared with 2020. The House-passed defense policy bill now heads to the Senate, where Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) have introduced companion legislation, for conference and final passage.
“After traveling to Alaska and speaking with family members of soldiers who have died by suicide and servicemembers struggling with the crushing isolation from family and friends at home, high cost of living, extreme weather, and monthslong delays in receiving behavioral health care despite expressing suicidal ideation, it became painfully clear to me that there is so much more we can and must do,” Chair Speier said. “The Don Young Arctic Warrior Act is a critical step in ensuring our servicemembers get the help and assistance they need and deserve. I will keep fighting to ensure this bipartisan, bicameral legislation makes it to the President’s desk and is signed into law on behalf of the servicemembers we have lost and those left to mourn them.”
The U.S. military is facing a suicide crisis. Over the past 5 years, the suicide rate for active-duty servicemembers has increased by 40%. The challenge is especially acute in Alaska, where in 2021, the number of soldiers who died by suicide doubled compared to the previous year.
The Don Young Arctic Warrior Act included in the House-passed FY23 NDAA will:
- Address financial pressures on servicemembers stationed in Alaska by creating Arctic Pay, a $300 per month special pay for cold-weather operations, and broadband and travel allowances to address the high cost of internet and airfare home from Alaska.
- Expand the behavioral health workforce through an expansion of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, new programs to pay for the education of civilian behavioral health providers in exchange for a service commitment to work in military medical treatment facilities, offering internship training programs for psychologists in military medical treatment facilities, establishing licensure portability for non-medical counselors, and requiring the Department of Defense to develop a plan to fill its shortfall of 1,000 civilian behavioral health providers.
- Establish a car-sharing pilot program to address transportation needs of servicemembers in Alaska.
- Promote safe storage of personally owned firearms by launching a voluntary pilot program to subsidize or provide secure gun storage or safety devices, such as safes and firearm locks, for servicemembers.
The House-passed NDAA also includes several provisions which Chair Speier crafted with Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) to address the poor conditions for sailors on ships undergoing complex overhaul in the aftermath of the deaths by suicide of seven sailors assigned to the USS George Washington. These provisions include complex overhaul pay to address financial pressures, assignment of at least two behavioral health providers to each carrier, paid moves to enable sailors to live closer to ships undergoing complex overhaul, and increases to manning.
To read the full text of the Don Young Arctic Warrior Act, click here.