Sebelius: Army Suicide Rate at All-Time One Month High of 38

By Melanie Arter | September 10, 2012 | 1:28 PM EDT

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius ( Starr)

( Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Monday announced nearly $56 million in new grants for suicide prevention, noting that suicide rates among the Army reached an all-time one month high in July.

Despite a slow but steady decline in suicide rates in the 1990s, suicide rates are on the rise, the secretary said. Older Americans have the highest suicide rate, she said.

“Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24, and we’ve seen especially alarming trends in our armed forces. Just this July, the Army lost 38 soldiers to suicide – an all-time one month high,” Sebelius said.

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Sebelius teamed up two years ago with then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to launch the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

“Today, I’m proud to announce nearly $56 million in new grants to support the national strategy. As part of the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, named for [former] Senator [Gordon] Smith’s son, Garrett, these grants will help expand state, tribal, and community suicide prevention efforts,” Sebelius said.

HHS also supports the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and partners with Veterans Affairs on the Veterans Crisis Line. Both phone lines allow people all over the country, and in some cases worldwide, to call day or night when they need help.

“And finally, we want to make sure that suicide prevention is part of our broader efforts to improve health care across America. For example, a couple of weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced new standards that doctors will have to meet to earn certain incentive payments,” Sebelius said.

“We made sure that providing people who have major depression with suicide risk assessment was included as one of those standards. Beginning last year, Medicare also began covering an annual preventive screening for depression, which is especially important, since older Americans have the highest rate of death by suicide,” she added.