U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly's first bill in the Senate was the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013. He has reintroduced the legislation this month. It's a good bill that shows compassion and support for the troops.
A Pentagon report released recently shows about 500 service members commit suicide every year. Last year, the total was about 470. Donnelly said U.S. military leaders are expecting record numbers of suicides this year — and that's not counting the estimated 8,000 veterans a year who kill themselves. Nor does it include the number of failed suicide attempts.
It is alarming that military suicides are so common.
Donnelly's bill calls for periodic mental health screening for all troops, not just those about to be deployed. It also creates a federal working group to identify gaps in mental health services for the military.
U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., also supports S.2300, which is now before the Committee on Armed Services.
Donnelly's office said Wednesday the legislation has the support of the National Guard Association of the United States; the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; the Association of the United States Navy; Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; Military Officers Association of America; the Reserve Officers Association; the Brain Injury Association of America; Resurrecting Lives Foundation; Honor for All; and the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. No wonder.
"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, D-Ind., said. "But we need to try to understand, so we can better service the service members and their families and friends who are still with us."
Donnelly's legislation is named for Jacob Sexton, of Farmland, Ind., who killed himself in Muncie in October 2009 while on a 15-day leave from service in Afghanistan.
"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 are far more than the statistics."
When Donnelly prepared to attend President Barack Obama's State of the Union address this year, he gave his only guest ticket to Jeff Sexton, Jacob Sexton's father.
That's how much Donnelly cares about the problem of military suicides — an issue everyone should find deeply disturbing.
With the high rate of military suicides, providing additional mental health assistance is the least we can do to support our troops. This bill must become law.