INDIANAPOLIS | U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., is renewing his focus on preventing military suicides with new legislation seeking to ensure all service members, not just deploying troops, are regularly screened for suicide risk factors.
The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014, which Donnelly unveiled Wednesday, would require all active, reserve and National Guard service members undergo suicide prevention screening. It also creates a federal working group to identify gaps in military mental health services.
"We may never know the particular invisible wound or internal battle that led to a particular service member taking his or her own life," Donnelly said. "But we need to try to understand, so we can better serve the service members and their families and friends who are still with us."
Approximately 470 service members took their own lives last year, down from 522 in 2012. However, Donnelly said military leaders are seeing record numbers of suicides this year, and that doesn't even count the estimated 8,000 veterans who annually kill themselves.
In comparison, fewer than 150 U.S. troops died overseas in combat last year.
"To truly understand the scourge of military suicide, we need to know the stories of the individual men and women we have lost," Donnelly said. "Their lives say far more than the statistics."
Military suicide prevention was the subject of Donnelly's first legislative proposal, Senate Bill 810, when he joined the Senate last year. It attracted bipartisan cosponsors but did not advance out of a Senate committee.
Donnelly hopes his revised proposal will win passage, because it "is stronger and more targeted at solutions that will help service members now," he said.
The legislation is named for Jacob Sexton, a National Guard specialist from Farmland, Ind., who killed himself in a Muncie movie theater in October 2009 while on 15-day leave from service in Afghanistan.
Then-U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-Columbus, praised Sexton in the U.S. House as "a selfless soldier who was quick to volunteer for difficult assignments."