Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly questioned General Mark A. Milley, nominee to be Chief of Staff of the Army, on pushing suicide prevention education and intervention down the chain of command to peers and immediate supervisors during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing today.
Donnelly asked, referencing a prior meeting with Gen. Milley, “We talked about the importance of pushing situational awareness down the chain of command and when I met with the Israeli Defense Forces, they said what was critical in reducing suicides was pushing it down the chain of command so the squad leader, the platoon leader, who could identify right on the spot, could help. I was wondering what your plans are to make sure that, at the squad level, the platoon leader… [is] aware of the challenge and are ready to try to help in eliminating [suicide].”
General Milley responded, “Behavioral health, mental health, my view is there but for the grace of God, go I. The human psyche is a very fragile thing and anyone of us, regardless of how many patches or Ranger tags we have or anyone has, is not so hard, not so tough, that they can’t break under a certain correct combination of stressors and pressures. And we have to be alert to those signs and symptoms, and we have to reach out and be literally our brothers and sisters keeper. That attitude has to happen throughout the force. It has happened considerably better than it was in previous years, and in the last few years it’s improved significantly. And that is what I think is contributing to the reduction of suicides is the increasing situational awareness and the reduction of stigma, and then the intervention of junior soldiers at the most junior level.”
Donnelly has continued to advance legislation that improves mental health care for servicemembers, veterans, and their families. In March, Donnelly introduced the “Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package” (“Care Package”), three bipartisan bills to help improve mental health services for troops and veterans. Military mental health provisions from the “Care Package” passed the Senate in June as part of the national defense bill and would help ensure there are a sufficient number of and the best trained mental health providers for servicemembers and veterans. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has committed to considering veterans-related provisions of Donnelly’s “Care Package” in the coming months. The “Care Package” would build on the progress made by Donnelly’s Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, which was signed into law late last year and for the first time requires an annual mental health assessment for all servicemembers—Active, Guard, and Reserve.
To watch Donnelly’s questions and General Milley’s responses on military mental health, click here.