The Navy is adjusting procedures for the Sailor Assistance and Intercept for Life program — requiring commanding officers to take a more proactive approach to ensure sailors at risk for suicide establish communication with the program.
The SAIL program is a service offered through Fleet and Family Support Centers for sailors who have exhibited suicide-related thinking or behavior. SAIL case managers equip these sailors with additional resources and are also responsible for communicating with their healthcare providers and command leadership.
Commands are required to refer sailors to SAIL if they exhibit suicidal behavior or ideation. But SAIL case managers struggle to get in touch with those referred to the program, so the sailor acceptance rate is roughly 50 percent, according to a new NAVADMIN.
That’s why the Navy is now instructing commanding officers to step up.
“SAIL procedures will be modified to require Commanding Officers to instruct and verify that the Sailors who have experienced a suicide-related behavior contact the SAIL case manager at the nearest Fleet and Family Service Center,” the NAVADMIN says. “This minor change in policy will help strengthen communication between Sailors and SAIL case managers by involving both in the initial contact process.”
Although sailors are still not required to participate in the SAIL program, it is designed to encourage more sailors to do so by establishing that first line of communication, the Navy said.
“After the Sailor is contacted, participation in the SAIL program remains voluntary, but you as leadership should take an active role in seeing that your Sailor gets the help they need,” the NAVADMIN said.
Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr., the Navy’s chief of personnel, told reporters Jan. 29 that the measure is an attempt to eliminate stigma related to suicide and mental health issues, and that the Navy is encouraging those in charge to be an “intrusive leader” to facilitate a climate where sailors seek help when they need it.
Since 2018, there has been a slight decline in suicides in the Navy. Last year there were a total of 76 deaths by suicide, down from 80 in 2019 and 79 in 2018.
“Although the overall suicide rate has started to move in the right direction, we must continue to keep the focus on Sailor support,” the NAVADMIN says.
“Know your Sailors,” the NAVADMIN states. “Leaders at every level should understand the factors that increase suicide risk and how your mission, work schedule, environment and other stressors might contribute to that risk.”
The SAIL program, which does not provide mental health services nor treatment, became available across the entire fleet in 2017.
The Veterans and Military Crisis Line provides 24/7 confidential support for service members and family members. It can be reached at 800-273-8255, by texting 838255 or online chat.