Donnelly Introduces New Military Suicide Prevention Bill

Washington, D.C.—Today, Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released a video message with an important update on his efforts to prevent military and veteran suicide and announced he has introduced the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014. Watch Senator Donnelly’s video message below and read the full Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 here.

Watch Senator Donnelly’s message here. 

To download this video in high-definition, click here.

TRANSCRIPT OF SENATOR DONNELLY’S ANNOUNCEMENT:

In 2012, we lost 522 men and women in uniform to suicide.  Last year, it is estimated we lost more than 470 servicemembers, and I’m hearing from military leaders that many branches are seeing record numbers of suicides so far in 2014.  That is not counting the thousands of veterans who take their lives each year. 

But, the full weight of the tragedy of suicide cannot be understood just through numbers. We may never know the particular invisible wound or internal battle that led to a particular servicemember taking his or her own life.  But we need to try to understand so we can better serve the servicemembers and their families and friends who are still with us. The impact of suicide ripples through a unit, affecting servicemembers from the command level down to individual soldiers, from military families to their friends and neighbors. To truly understand the scourge of military suicide, we need to know the stories of the individual men and women we have lost. Their lives say far more than the statistics.

For me, this about people like Jacob Sexton, a proud son of Farmland, Indiana, and a National Guard specialist, who tragically took his life while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan. This is about working non-stop with Jacob’s parents to prevent other families from experiencing that same pain.

There is not one solution, there’s no cure-all to prevent suicide.  But this problem is not too big to solve. We can start by improving our methods of identifying risk factors before it is too late.

Last year, I introduced my first bill as U.S. Senator, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013, with the intention of helping prevent one more family from going through what the Sexton family experienced when Jacob took his life in 2009.  With the blessing of Jacob’s parents, I have worked with them to raise awareness about this issue and the need for better screening and resources for other servicemembers like Jacob.

I have spent the past year working with mental health professionals, the Department of Defense and rank and file members of our military on how to improve mental health assessments expand access to confidential care and services and ensure these actions protect servicemembers’ privacy and their careers. Today, I am proud to announce that I will be introducing the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014. This new bill is stronger and more targeted at solutions that will help servicemembers now.

First, our bill would require assessments for all servicemembers—Active, Reserve, and Guard.  Right now, the best and most consistent screening is happening only for those within the deployment cycle and it leaves Reservists and Guardsmen like Jacob, underserved.

Second, our bill establishes a working group from the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to review current practices and make recommendations on how to improve mental health services for the National Guard. In the National Guard, despite improvements elsewhere, we continue to see suicide rates climb. This working group needs to report back to Congress so we can expand what’s working and eliminate what’s not.

Finally, we emphasizes privacy protections for service members, ensuring that we stick to our word when we say that seeking help is a sign of strength—to be commended, not punished.  We need to recognize that mental fitness, like physical fitness, is a critical component of military readiness.

To learn about the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 and to find out ways you can help a family member or a friend who needs help, visit donnelly.senate.gov/preventsuicide.

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