The Air Force is planning to create a working group on mental health and resiliency this year as part of its longstanding effort to combat suicide in its ranks.

The Air Force has struggled in recent years to stem an alarming increase in deaths by suicide. In 2019, 136 airmen took their own lives, about one-third more than in the previous year.

And preliminary statistics in 2020 were equally concerning. In September, Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown told reporters that 98 airmen had so far died by suicide in 2020, about as many as had died by that point in 2019.

The Defense Department also reported a 14 percent spike in deaths by suicide, among service members of all branches, from April to June in 2020, during the early months of the pandemic.

In an October interview, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said the issue of suicide prevention is a top priority for her, and is talked about each day in her office.

The working group will bring together all officials who are involved with building resiliency among airmen and families, Bass said. It will review how the Air Force builds resiliency, as well as issues involving mental health and culture, and how it can improve policies and procedures.

Bass said the group also will include airmen who have been directly affected by resiliency issues, and can provide firsthand examples of where gaps in the system exist and must be fixed.

Stephen Losey covers leadership and personnel issues as the senior reporter for Air Force Times. He comes from an Air Force family, and his investigative reports have won awards from the Society of Professional Journalists. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover Air Force operations against the Islamic State.

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