INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) fought for two years to pass a bill into law that will change the way the military deals with mental health issues.
Donnelly was inspired by a couple from Farmland, Indiana. Jeff and Barb Sexton lost their son Jacob to suicide. He killed himself while on leave from Afghanistan.
Now, every member of the military will receive an annual mental health examination because of the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014.
Sexton killed himself at a movie theater in Muncie in 2009 but his problems started when he prepared to make his second deployment with National Guard.
“He wanted help but I believe that he was afraid to speak up,” his father, Jeff, said.
On Friday, Donnelly pointed out that Sexton was much like any young man in Indiana as he hailed the passage of a new law named after him. It will not just improve mental health treatment in the military, it will also protect the privacy of people who seek help.
“The day they passed the bill would have been Jacob’s 27th birthday,” said Jeff Sexton. “I can’t think of a better birthday present for him.”
“We need to care for their mental health the same way we care for their physical health,” said Lisa Brattain of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “I think there’s a saying called ‘a checkup from the neck up.'”
The statistics are staggering. 475 people in the military committed suicide last year. 132 died in combat..
“I’ve talked to different units and everything and begged the guys to get help,” said Jeff Sexton. “This gives them the chance.”
Sen. Donnelly says he hopes to eliminate military suicide.
“I was asked by somebody, they said, ‘What’s your real goal?’ I said ‘My real goal is to get it to zero.'”
The Jacob Sexton Act was included in the National Defense Authorization Act. It passed the Senate a week ago and the President signed it into law Friday afternoon.