By JOE DONNELLY
United States Senator for Indiana
After two years of working to combat the scourge of military suicide, the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act is now law. This landmark legislation recently passed the House and the Senate as part of the National Defense Authorization Act and was signed into law by the President. Under the new law, the military will put into place annual mental health assessments that will help save lives.
For two straight years, we have seen more military suicide deaths than combat fatalities in our Armed Forces. In 2012, 522 men and women in uniform took their own lives while we lost 316 in combat. In 2013, we lost a record number in the National Guard and 474 service members overall, more than three times the number killed in combat. In just the first six months this year, 224 service members have taken their own lives.
Among the heartbreaking loses in recent years was Jacob Sexton. Sexton was a Hoosier from Farmland, Indiana, who joined the Indiana Army National Guard and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While home on a 15-day leave in 2009, Jacob took his own life in a Muncie movie theatre. He was only 21 years old. Sexton’s story and the stories of so many others like him inspired this legislation, and his parents, Jeff and Barb Sexton, have worked non-stop to help us raise awareness of this issue.
We may never fully comprehend the invisible wounds that lead to a service member taking his or her own life, but we can do more to help prevent military suicide.
That is why I introduced the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act with my Republican colleague, Senator Roger Wicker from Mississippi. The Sexton Act aims to make mental health a central element of a service member’s overall readiness in three key ways:
- It requires annual mental health assessments for all service members, including members of the Active, Guard and Reserve components.
- It will ensure that seeking help remains a sign of strength by maintaining strong privacy protections for service members.
- It requires a Pentagon report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement, including peer-to-peer programs that I have proposed in the past.
Our men and women in uniform serve our country honorably, putting their lives on the line in our defense. We owe them our gratitude, support, and access to services that can help ease their burdens, heal their wounds, and stay physically and mentally strong for the next fight. We have more work to do, but the Sexton Act being signed into law is extraordinary progress and should begin making a difference for our service members in the new year.
It has been an honor continuing to serve you in the United States Senate this year.