Push to reduce service member suicide 

Veterans' artwork from Veterans Antiquities in Indianapolis.
  • Veterans' artwork from Veterans Antiquities in Indianapolis.

U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly introduced legislation Wednesday that aims to stem the rising suicide rate among service members.

The proposed Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 is named after Indiana National Guardsman Jacob Sexton, who took his own life while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan.

Donnelly introduced a similar bill in 2013.

"Last year it was estimated that we lost more than 470 service members to suicide in 2013," Donnelly said. "And in 2012, we lost 295 service members in combat and we lost 522 service members to suicide. That is not counting the thousands of veterans who take their lives each year."

The new legislation provides solutions for military men and women from all components of the military. The bill requires all active, reserve, and Guard service members to undergo person-to-person mental health assessments.

"The best and most consistent screening right now is happening for those within the deployment cycle," Donnelly said. "What we're working to do is make sure that not only those in the deployment cycle are able to get this screening, but that members in the National Guard and reserves get these opportunities."

With suicide rates climbing particularly in the National Guard, the bill would help establish a working group from the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services. The group would review practices and make suggestions on how to improve mental health services in the National Guard.

"In the National Guard, despite improvements elsewhere, we continue to see suicide rates climb. This working group needs to report back to Congress so we can expand what's working and eliminate what's not," Donnelly said.

Donnelly emphasized that service members' privacy would be protected and said he wants them to realize that seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.

"We need to recognize that mental fitness, like physical fitness, is a critical component of military readiness," he said.

Donnelly said service members can seek treatment by talking with a supervisor or calling 800-273-8255.

"There is not one solution, there's no cure-all to prevent suicide. But this problem is not too big to solve. We can start by improving our methods of identifying risk factors before it is too late," Donnelly said.

Andi TenBarge is a reporter at TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

Sen. Donnelly's office released the following video:

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