Washington, D.C. –U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly released the following statement in recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month.
Donnelly said, “We still have a lot of work to do to address the scourge of military suicide, and we must continue to work nonstop to ensure our servicemembers receive the care and support they deserve. Suicide Prevention Month is a reminder that while some progress has been made, it’s not enough. I will continue to make it a top priority to see that the bipartisan ‘Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package’ gets signed into law this year. ”
Recently the Air Force acknowledged the pressing need to confront the scourge of military suicide as it saw a record number of suicides in 2014. When asked about the service’s efforts to bring down the suicide rate, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force James A. Cody said, in a recently Military.com story, “Obviously not enough to be honest with you. We’re struggling with it.” The Air Force reported 59 servicemembers were lost to suicide in 2014, “the most in a single year for the service since the military began tracking suicides closely in the early 2000s.”
Donnelly has continued to advance legislation that would improve 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 expand access to quality mental health care for servicemembers and veterans through both Department of Defense (DoD) and VA facilities, as well as local community providers. Military mental health provisions from the “Care Package” passed the Senate in June as part of the national defense bill and would help ensure that there are a sufficient number of the best trained mental health providers for servicemembers and veterans.
The Senate and House have passed different versions of the national defense bill. Donnelly is on the conference committee ironing out differences between the Senate and House-passed national defense bills, and working to help reach an agreement on a final National Defense Authorization Act. The annual defense bill has been signed into law for 53 consecutive years.
The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has committed to considering veterans-related provisions of Donnelly’s “Care Package” in the coming weeks and 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.
A July 2015 report released by DoD on military suicides in the first quarter of 2015 found that 99 servicemembers took their own lives from January through March, including 57 active component servicemembers, 15 reserve servicemembers, and 27 National Guard Members. Last year, according to the Pentagon, 442 servicemembers took their own lives, including 273 active component servicemembers, 79 reserve servicemembers, and 90 National Guard members. In 2014, for the third straight year, more servicemembers were lost to suicide than in combat.
There are many resources available to servicemembers who struggle with suicidal thoughts. For servicemembers and their families, trained mental health specialists are available 24 hours a day through the Military & Veterans crisis line. There are three ways to get help from the Military Crisis Line:
- Call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1;
- Chat online at www.MilitaryCrisisLine.net;
- Send a text message to 838255.