By Olivia Covington
A bill aimed at preventing suicides among military members is expected to pass the U.S. Senate this week.
Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., authored the Jacob Sexton Military Prevention Suicide Act of 2014 because he believes the U.S. military needs to improve its mental health screening system.
“This will be a major step forward, because it will make mental health screening a requirement for all service members, every year,” Donnelly said. “We must do a better job of identifying those who are struggling with challenges.”
The act has three main components. First, it will require yearly mental health screenings for active military members, as well as members of the guard and reserve. Right now screenings are only required for active members.
The second part of the bill focuses on the protection of privacy for soldiers who ask for help with their mental health problems.
“We must ensure that seeking help isn’t considered a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of strength,” Donnelly said.
Finally, the bill would require the Pentagon to look at existing mental health screening and treatment options for military members and issue a report on ways to improve the system. That report would be due within a year of the bill becoming law.
The Jacob Sexton Act is part of the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act. The House passed the bill last week and Donnelly said he thinks the Senate could vote on it as early as Friday.
Donnelly also said he thinks President Barack Obama will sign the bill into law “very, very quickly” — most likely before the end of the year.
In 2013, 475 soldiers lost their lives to suicide, compared to 132 who were killed in combat.
In the first quarter of this year, 120 military members had already committed suicide.
“It’s become such an overwhelming issue, in terms of the numbers and the stark reality of, we lost four times more to suicide than in combat just last year,” Donnelly said.
Jacob Sexton was among the soldiers in 2009 who chose to end their lives. He was home in Farmland, Ind. on a 15-day-leave from Afghanistan when he shot himself in a Muncie movie theatre. He was 21-years-old.
Sexton’s family worked with Donnelly to create the bill in his honor.
“We owe it to the Sexton family, to Jake Sexton, to families across Indiana and across the country to make sure the numbers are reduced,” he said, “and that we can get them down to zero.”
Olivia Covington is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.