U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly has introduced legislation aimed at helping reduce the number of suicides among U.S. service members.
Donnelly said last month that suicide prevention among military men and women would be a priority for him as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. On Thursday, April 25, the Indiana Democrat followed up, introducing a measure calling for creation of a pilot program that integrates mental health assessments into service members’ regular health evaluations.
“This bill seeks to better identify service members struggling with mental health issues and to ensure they receive the assistance they need before resorting to this tragic act,” Donnelly said in a statement.
He named the bill, his first as a member of the U.S. Senate, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013, named for a member of the Indiana National Guard from Farmland, Ind., who killed himself in 2009 while home on leave from Afghanistan.
Per the measure, a pilot program in each service branch would be created to integrate mental health assessments into annual routine health reviews, called periodic health assessments.
If problems or risk factors were identified, service members “would be referred to behavioral health specialists for further evaluation and medical care,” said Donnelly’s press release. “The legislation also includes privacy protections for service members so the information gathered is only used for medical purposes and not for promotion, retention or disciplinary purposes.
In 2012 alone, 349 U.S. military members — active duty, guard and reserve — committed suicide, more than the total number of service members who died in combat operations, according to stats provided by Donnelly. That doesn’t include the more than 6,000 veterans who committed suicide in 2012.