INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is on a mission to reduce military suicides.
Donnelly is working with an Indiana family to convince military leaders to pay more attention to mental health issues. Jeffrey and Barb Sexton of Farmland, Indiana lost their son to suicide and now, for the second year, they are working with Senator Donnelly to improve the government and military support for servicemembers, particularly those in the National Guard.
Jacob Sexton was on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan when he took his own life in 2009. Senator Joe Donnelly’s legislation aimed at preventing others from doing the same thing is called the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014.
“We need to recognize that mental fitness like physical fitness is a critical component of military readiness,” said Donnelly.
It’s a big problem. In 2012, 522 servicemembers committed suicide. Over 470 did so in 2013.
In recent Senate hearings, Donnelly was told that it’s a problem that sometimes spikes.
“We are in the middle of a spike like that right now,” said Air Force Chief of Staff Mark A. Welsh III on April 10. “We have had 32 suicides, the latest one was last night, inside the total Air Force this calendar year.”
Military leaders are worried.
“Over a hundred thousand men and women coming off active duty with 4, 5 ,6 years in combat,” said Army Chief of Staff Frank Grass, “how is that going to have an impact?”
The Sexton Act calls for annual Mental Health Assessments for all servicemembers including the Guard and Reserves. It mandates improved services, better reporting, and most importantly privacy protection for servicemembers seeking treatment.
“They’re afraid of what it might do to their career,” said Sen. Donnelly, “and so we want to make sure we’re working closely with mental health facilities nearby bases and places that they can go to and feel that their privacy will be protected.”
The National Guard is where the biggest problems lie. Last year active duty suicides declined. In the meantime, they continued to rise in the National Guard reaching an all-time high.