Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly helped the Senate pass the national defense bill that included his Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act. The Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act would address the shortage of mental healthcare providers within the Department of Defense (DoD).
Donnelly said, “The passage of this bipartisan bill is a critical step forward in our efforts to combat military suicide and get servicemembers better access to quality mental health care. I am optimistic that this bill will become law this year.”
The Senate and House passed different versions of the national defense bill and now will work to reach a compromise on final legislation. The national defense bill has been signed into law for 54 consecutive years.
The Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act is the final piece of Donnelly’s bipartisan Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package (“Care Package,”) and would expand the availability of Physician Assistants (PAs) to provide mental health care evaluations and services for servicemembers and military families. The bill would establish a pilot program to expand the use of PAs specializing in psychiatric medicine to help meet the increasing demand for mental health care and improve access to quality care for servicemembers.
Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, has worked effectively and tirelessly over the past three years to find commonsense, bipartisan solutions to combat military suicide and strengthen military mental health care. He has had three military mental health provisions signed into law:
- In 2014, Donnelly’s bipartisan Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act was signed into law. Named for Hoosier Jacob Sexton, a National Guardsman who took his life in 2009, the law, for the first time, requires an annual mental health assessment for all servicemembers including Active, Guard, and Reserve.
- In 2015, two provisions from Donnelly’s “Care Package” were signed into law, which aim to help expand access to quality mental health care for servicemembers and veterans through both military providers as well as community providers. These included:
o A provision that creates a special designation, and an online registry, for private sector, community mental health providers who demonstrate – either through training or past experience – a strong knowledge of military culture and evidence-based therapies for mental health issues common to veterans and servicemembers.
o A provision that requires all DoD primary care and mental health care providers receive evidence-based training on suicide risk recognition and management.
According to the Department of Defense, in 2015, 475 servicemembers took their own lives. This marks the fourth consecutive year that more troops were lost to suicide than combat. In 2014, 443 servicemembers took their own lives. In 2013, 474 servicemembers were lost to suicide.