Inside the quest to prevent suicides through better data

February 27, 2015

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News

FCW: The Business of Federal Technology

Together, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) are making progress toward the creation of a powerful new joint data system that they hope will strengthen suicide prevention efforts. Still in its early stages, the Suicide Data Repository has not yet integrated records from the two separate agencies, and is still not open to independent researchers. As they work toward these goals, VA and the DoD have also each been working to improve their own data collection and tracking practices. “The point of surveillance is to identify trends so that we can intervene, and we need to make sure that we’re intervening on the right things,” explained Rajeev Ramchand, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND Corporation. Historically, officers in charge of compiling data on a service member’s suicide attempt or death have often submitted incomplete information, making it difficult to rely on the resulting data. A new report by the DoD’s inspector general stresses the importance of thorough and accurate reporting, and notes the agency’s recent improvement in this area.

Spark Extra! A 2014 RAND Corporation report, based on a review of suicide prevention research currently funded by the Department of Defense, describes areas of promise as well as gaps in the DoD research agenda and lays out recommendations for moving forward.