A Navy audit concluded in 2018 found that the Corps was not complying with guidance and instructions required by the secretary of the Navy that aids in suicide prevention.
Specifically, the Marine Corps was not adequately providing links on its webpages to the Veterans Crisis Line.
The audit, obtained by Marine Corps Times via a Freedom of Information Act request, found that none of the 43 reviewed Marine Corps command websites included a link to the crisis line.
A previous 2012 audit found that 54 percent of the Marine websites it searched did not have a suicide crisis link or phone number, and recommendations from that report were still in an “open status” as of March 2018. The 2018 audit was published in June 2018.
Suicide prevention is a serious issue in the Corps as the force faces suicide levels at a 10-year high. In 2018, 75 Marines ended their lives, the majority of those Marines were under the age of 25 and had no overseas deployment experience.
“When suicide crisis links and phone numbers are not prominently advertised on Marine Corps Web sites, there is a missed opportunity to facilitate and encourage Marines to seek assistance in a critical time of need,” the audit reads.
The Corps says it is tackling the findings of the audit and that a Veterans Crisis Line has been added to the “template” for all of the Corps’ webpages.
“One suicide is one too many. We prevent suicide one Marine at a time by knowing each Marine at a personal level, caring for each Marine, connecting with them early, and never leaving a Marine behind,” Maj. Brian Block, a Marine spokesman, told Marine Corps Times in an emailed statement.
Moreover, updated guidance about the crisis link will be included in the next version of Marine Corps order 5720.77, the Corps’ order covering public affairs, according to Block.
Block added that the Corps currently includes a link to the DSTRESS page and phone number (1-877-476-7734).
The Veterans Crisis Line and DSTRESS are two separate programs and the Navy audit explained that the inclusion of the DSTRESS link did not adequately address a recommendation it made in 2012.
That recommendation called for “a working link and phone number to a suicide crisis hotline such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline" to be added to Marine Corps homepages, the audit stated.
Instructions from the secretary of the Navy in February 2012 called for a link to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which was updated in October 2014, and instructed a link to the Veterans Crisis Line.
The Veterans Crisis Line connects veterans, friends or family to Department of Veterans Affairs responders via a confidential web chat, toll-free hotline, or text.
DSTRESS is a “Marine-specific call center providing phone, chat, and video-telephone capability for anonymous, non-medical, short-term and solution-focused counseling for circumstances across the stress continuum,” Block explained.
While the audit dinged the Corps on advertising a veteran’s crisis link on its webpages, the Marines have been pushing a slew of initiatives and outreach efforts like the Marine Intercept Program or Operational Stress Control and Readiness, among other programs.
The Marine Intercept Program helps Marines and sailors who have suicidal ideations or have attempted suicide. And the Operational Stress Control and Readiness builds Marine and religious leaders within battalions that help tackle combat and operational stress.
“Suicide prevention is not a single act. Rather, prevention efforts are a series of healthy behaviors and actions aimed at normalizing seeking support, instilling hope and confidence, and increasing connection across the Marine Corps as a whole,” Block said.
Shawn Snow is the senior reporter for Marine Corps Times and a Marine Corps veteran.