UPDATE, 12-19-2014:The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 was signed into law as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by President Obama. Click here for more information
“These men and women are giving their all to support our way of life and they risk making the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms. At a minimum, we should honor this service and sacrifice by doing all we can to support them.”
- Joe Donnelly, Floor Speech in Recognition of Suicide Prevention Month, September 2014
Require annual mental health assessments for all servicemembers, including members of the Active, Guard, and Reserve components. Right now, the best and most consistent screening is happening only for those within the deployment cycle which can leave non-deployed members of the Active, Reserve, and Guard components underserved.
Maintain strong privacy protections for servicemembers. We must ensure that seeking help remains a sign of strength by protecting the privacy of the servicemember coming forward. The privacy of servicemembers would be ensured by guaranteeing medical privacy protections for these mental health assessments.
Require a Pentagon report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement. This report, which is due to Congress within a year of enactment of the bill, would help identify which programs are working and which need to be fixed. A specific focus of the report will be identifying successful peer-to-peer programs that address the need for a more bottom-up approach to identifying warning signs and combatting stigma in each of the Services, with the intention of future expansion.
Timeline of the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act
Senate and House announce FY 2015 NDAA compromise legislation including Donnelly’s Sexton Act. On December 12, 2014, the Senate passed the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, and it was signed into law by President Obama on December 19, 2014.
Who is Jacob Sexton?
Jacob Sexton, a native of Farmland, Indiana, was a member of the Indiana National Guard, who tragically took his own life in 2009 while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan. Donnelly has been working with Jacob's parents to help prevent one more family from going through what the Sexton family experienced after losing Jacob in 2009.
Organizations that haveendorsed the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014:
The following organizations endorsed the bill in May 2014:
Retired Maj. Gen. Gus Hargett, President of the National Guard Association of the United States, said, “The increase in suicides in our ranks is more than a serious problem; it’s a symptom of a national mental health crisis. We have to increase access to quality mental health care. The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 does just that. The Guard community greatly appreciates the efforts of Senator Donnelly and Senator Wicker on this important, bipartisan legislation.”
John Madigan, Vice President of Public Policy, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said, “The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention thanks Senator Joe Donnelly for his continued leadership on military suicide prevention. Providing service members both ongoing treatment and support for mental health issues should be America’s highest goal and objective. Passage of the bipartisan Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 will go a long way towards addressing military suicide prevention honestly and directly.”
Anthony A. Wallis, Legislative Director of the Association of the United States Navy, said, “The Association of the United States Navy (AUSN) wholeheartedly supports S. 2300, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014. This bill would help in the reduction of the alarmingly high military suicide rate by requiring assessments for all servicemembers, Active, Reserve, and Guard, as well as by establishing a review of current practices and establishing privacy protections for servicemembers seeking help. The alarming numbers of servicemembers and veterans who take their lives must be addressed and this bipartisan legislation, introduced by Senator Donnelly and Senator Wicker, is a step in the right direction.”
Paul Rieckhoff, Founder and CEO of IAVA, said, "IAVA applauds the bipartisan efforts of Senator Donnelly and Senator Wicker on this critically important issue. As part of our campaign to combat suicide, IAVA has encouraged Congress to ensure DOD is doing everything it can to monitor the mental health of servicemembers. This commonsense approach allows all military branches to ensure that mental health evaluations are a central tenet to DOD's responsibilities to its servicemembers."
Vice Admiral Norb Ryan, USN (Ret.), President of the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), said, “Senator Donnelly’s Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 would establish needed uniform mental health care assessment standards across all branches and components of the armed services. These standards will bolster the efforts of the individual services and ensure quality mental health screenings for every servicemember.”
Keith Weller, spokesman, Reserve Officers Association, said, “Today’s citizen warriors sign up for service in the Reserve and Guard with the clear understanding that their duty will carry unique burdens. They understand that they will enter a culture of service and a system of support that is ill-suited for the challenges presented by the duality of their lives in and out of uniform. The staggering rate of suicide among members of America’s Reserve and Guard is the result of ‘one size fits all’ mentality of prevention. Reserve service carries unique burdens and the challenges of post-deployment life and civilian transition are largely misunderstood by a public weary of war and a Congress strapped for cash. Reservists operate outside the cocoon of support found on Active duty installations. The Sexton Act is a solid first step towards providing the tailored research and targeted support our Reservists need and ultimately the parity in service they deserve.”
Susan Connors, President/CEO of the Brain Injury Association of America, said, “As a nation we have to understand what it takes to be a warrior. We ask young men and women to devote themselves to duty, honor our democratic ideals, and sacrifice their safety to protect our freedoms. In turn, we must be prepared to care for them in war and in peace. The Brain Injury Association of America applauds Sen. Donnelly for taking positive action to ensure access to the best mental health care possible.”
Dr. Chrissane Gordon, Chairwoman and Founder, Resurrecting Lives Foundation, said, “The Resurrecting Lives Foundation commends Senator Donnelly on his bill's inclusion of traumatic brain injury (TBI) treatment as a factor in suicide prevention. A person who has suffered a TBI, like those sustained in IED blasts, is nearly eight times more likely to commit suicide than someone without such an injury. Early identification and treatment of brain injuries is crucial for suicide reduction.”
Thomas Mahany, Executive Director, Honor for All, said, "We believe we must all act as one to demonstrate our common resolve against the perils of unattended and invisible wounds. Misunderstood and even mistrusted, these injuries cut across the fabric of society taking lives and destroying families. This is something we wish to stop. We are 100 percent in support of the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 and Senator Donnelly’s bipartisan effort to prevent military suicide.”
Brian Rasmussen, Government Affairs Manager, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, said, “On behalf of our 26,000 members, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy is pleased to endorse Sen. Donnelly’s Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, S 2300. With the extensive number of recent multiple combat deployments, our military members face unprecedented challenges. These challenges can be particularly difficult for deployed National Guard and Reserve members, as well as for service members’ families. Sen. Donnelly’s legislation would require all service members to receive annual mental health screenings, and clinical follow ups when appropriate. His bill also would improve the identification and treatment of Traumatic Brain Injuries, one of the ‘signature wounds’ of our recent conflicts. So we believe this legislation would reduce the number of military suicides and go a long way to improving care for our injured service members.”
The following organizations endorsed the bill after May 2014:
Since 2001, approximately 2,300 soliders have died in Operation Enduring Freedom. Over the same period, more than 3,000 active duty soldiers have taken their own lives.
More than 1.5 times more soldiers have died as a result of suicide than died in Operation Enduring Freedom this year.
The number of active duty suicides peaked in 2012 with 320 active duty servicemembers taking their own lives, which surpasses the number of soldiers killed in Operations Enduring Freedom, Operation New Dawn, and Operation Iraqi Freedom that year. When including reserve component service members, the number of suicides rises to 522.
The Army active duty has the majority of suicide deaths with almost 1,500 suicides since 2001.
The Navy, Air Force, and Marines active duty had approximately 560, 580, and 450 suicide deaths since 2001, respectively.
Source: Center for Disease Control, Department of Defense
In December, following House passage of the bill, Donnelly's office released a memo detailing the scourge of military suicide. The memo includes the prevalance across active duty military branches and how many servicemembers we lost in combat compared to suicide.
For more information and statistics, please click here to download a memo released by Donnelly's office on military suicide.
Senator Donnelly Speaks to the National Military Family Association and UnitedHealth Group (September 2014)
Donnelly spoke to the National Military Family Association and UnitedHealth Group in September 2014 about the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 and the impact it would have for the military community.
Donnelly Keynotes Reserve Officers Association Mental Health Seminar (July 2014)
Donnelly delivered the keynote address at the Reserve Officers Association's "Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Military and Veterans: Challenges & Solutions" seminar. Donnelly spoke about the need to expland mental health assessment programs for all servicemembers, including members of the Active, Guard, and Reserve components, as promosed in his Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014.