ASU professor joins Dept. of Defense committee, aiming to prevent military suicides

Rebecca Blais is on a suicide prevention and response committee whose report includes 127 recommendations for the Department of Defense on preventing suicides.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 7:10 AM MST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- Rebecca Blais, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University, was selected to join the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee (SPRIRC) formed by Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin. Recently, the committee released a report with 127 recommendations for the Department of Defense on preventing suicides among active service members.

Blais, who comes from a military family, said she wanted to give back to those who served. She focuses on sexual trauma and suicide in the military.

“If we look at the trends over the last 15 years, the rate is increasing. And whereas being a member of the service used to be protective against suicide risk 15 or 20 years ago, is what we’re seeing is the suicide risk is going upwards in a way that it’s now exceeding what we see in civilians,” said Blais. She said a committee of 10 met for about four weeks at the Pentagon before traveling to nine installations in and outside of the U.S.

“These are high-risk installations who had high rates of suicide, and we interviewed almost 3,000 individuals--predominantly service members,” said Blais.

The recommendations have a priority rating of high, moderate, and low. Among the top three recommendations, Blais said was improving training for leadership roles. She said there were many in leadership roles said to be creating hostile work environments. That is one recommendation Teri and Patrick Caserta agree with.

In 2018, they lost their 21-year-old son Brandon to suicide. He wanted to be a Navy SEAL.

“He was well on his way, and unfortunately, some people did some things they shouldn’t have any kind of threw him off track,” said Patrick.

Brandon’s parents say he was bullied and hazed in the Navy.

In 2021, they were able to honor his memory when the Brandon Act became law. The bill ensures service members are able to seek mental healthcare without having to go through the chain of command, which the Casertas say could lead to criticism and a request being blocked.

“These new recommendations will maybe open up the top’s eyes to do something. That part we loved. We love that ASU participated,” said Patrick.

However, the couple does not agree with all recommendations and wished it hadn’t taken a year to complete the report while more lives were lost. They’re also concerned with service members not being forthcoming with the committee out of fear of retaliation.

They say this report is a step in the right direction, but the military needs to be held accountable for how it implements the recommendations.

“This stuff is great. Implementing it would be great. It’s a start, but we needed something immediately--years ago,” said Patrick.

Blais said the committee will turn in another report to the Secretary of Defense, outlining the next steps for implementation. She explained they plan to have a game plan and budget for every recommendation. To read the full report from the SPRIRC, click here.