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Schumer, Joined By Local Veterans & Service Members, Pushed Bill That Would Help Address the Military Suicide Rate By Increasing The Number of Mental Health Screenings for Service Members – Active Service Members Currently Only Get Screened Right Before & Right After Deployment, But Those Who Never Deploy Are At High Risk & Screening Is Needed For Them; Longer Term Screening Is Needed As Well Because Suicidal Thoughts Often Do Not Take Shape Until Much Later

Schumer Pushes To Help Syracuse Service Members, Including Approximately 2,000 in National Guard, Get The Care & Help They Need and Deserve – Says The Statistics Are Alarming: Over 1,500 NYS Veterans Have Committed Suicide In The Last Ten Years & Almost 500 Service Members Commit Suicide Each Year; Suicide Rate Among National Guard & Reserves Is Growing

Schumer: We Must Do All We Can To Prevent Service Members & Families From The Pain of Suicide

Today, at Syracuse City Hall, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer joined with local veterans and servicemembers, to push a bill that would help stem the growing military suicide rate by expanding mental health screening for service members. Schumer said that, traditionally, the military has provided the most effective mental health screening only for those who are preparing for or returning from deployment, despite research that shows suicides occur just as often among service members who have never deployed. The bill, called the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, would help address this problem by establishing a uniform standard across all of the military services, including members of the Active, Guard and Reserve components, to ensure that every servicemember receives a quality mental health assessment each year regardless of deployment status. Schumer explained that this legislation is included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which will be considered by Congress before the end of this year. Schumer vowed to fight to pass this bill in order to get service members in the Syracuse area the resources and support they need.

“Caring for the members of our military is not a partisan cause; it is an American one. That is why I am urging Congress to pass a bill that would provide access to mental health screenings for all of our service members each year, regardless of whether they recently deployed or not,” said Schumer. “These brave men and women work to protect our freedom every day, and it is our duty to protect them by providing access to the care and suicide prevention services they need and deserve. Military suicide rates are high – and growing among members of the Guard and Reserves – and we need annual screenings to help identify those who are most at risk before it is too late. Too many military families have lost a mother or father to suicide and we must do all we can to help lower the alarming rate. I will fight tooth and nail to make sure our nation's heroes get the care they need and deserve so they do not become tragic statistics.”

Schumer explained that currently, mental health screening and suicide prevention efforts in the military are geared towards those who are getting set to deploy and those who have recently returned from combat. The way the current system works, a member of the military has a mental health screening within 120 days of their estimated date of deployment, and then three subsequent screenings when they return – one between 90 and 180 days after return from deployment, one between 181 days and 18 months after return from deployment, and one between 18 and 30 months after return from deployment. Schumer praised the military’s focus on mental health and preventing suicide among those who are deploying, but noted that this procedure leaves Reservists and Guardsmen, who are much less likely to be deployed, without the consistent screening they need. In fact, members of the Reserves and the Guard are not being screened for mental health concerns and suicide risk unless they deploy. According to the Associated Press, suicides are down overall among Active Duty soldiers, but suicides are up among Reservists and Guardsmen. Schumer cited a Harvard study that surveyed 5,000 non-deployed soldiers. It found that 14 percent of these soldiers considered suicide at some point in their lifetime, 5.3 percent made a suicide plan and 2.4 percent attempted suicide. Schumer said that the rise in suicides among the Reserves and Guard, as well as evidence that a significant percentage of non-deployed soldiers consider suicide, are key reasons why annual mental health screenings are needed, regardless of deployment status.

Schumer cited alarming and troubling suicide statistics among veterans, as well as Active Duty, Reserves and Guard, as evidence for why a new, consistent policy of annual screenings across all branches of the military is needed. According to a study funded by the Carnegie Corporation and the Knight Foundation, between 2005 and 2011, approximately 1,500 New York State veterans committed suicide. This number constitutes roughly 15 percent of all suicides in New York State during the same time period. According to the Department of Defense, the country lost 522 servicemembers to suicide in 2012 and more than 470 in 2013. While suicides among active duty servicemembers declined modestly from 2012 to 2013, suicides among members of the National Guard and Reserves rose, hitting a record high of 152 last year between the two branches. Nationally, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 30,000 veterans and military members have committed suicide since the Department of Defense (DOD) began closely tracking these incidents in 2009. Schumer said that the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014, which has been incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act, would improve access to mental health services and professionals for all active service members so that they are more prepared to handle challenges when they leave the service and become veterans, and so they are more likely to get the care they need while they are serving. Schumer said the goal of this legislation is to make mental health care a central component of determining a service member’s readiness while they are still on active duty, so they are better prepared to deal with mental health challenges that might arise as a veteran. New York State alone had a total veteran population of 892,221 as of September 2014.

Schumer said that this bill would benefit many active duty service members across the State of New York. According to a Defense Manpower Data Center study conducted in 2013, there are approximately 24,306 active duty military service members in New York State. In the Syracuse area alone, there are 1,575 National Guard soldiers and Airmen who would benefit from the annual mental health screenings required by this bill, and over 30,000 members of the Reserves across New York State. In addition to these active and guard numbers, there are thousands of reservists in the State of New York. Schumer said that there are also approximately 19,000 active duty service members alone stationed at Fort Drum in Jefferson County. In addition to those preparing for or returning from deployment, many of these active duty service members would receive mental health services who did not before due to the fact that they were not on track for deployment. Schumer said this bill has the potential to improve the access to care for many of New York State’s military personnel. 

Currently, the focus of suicide prevention for active service members is on those preparing for and returning from deployment. However, research has shown that deployment is not always correlated to military suicides. That is why this bill, which was authored by Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), aims to take the focus of suicide prevention away from deployments and instead ensure that comprehensive mental health evaluations are provided each year for all service members, including “Active,” “Guard,” and “Reserve,” regardless of whether they have deployed or will in the near future. This bill, which is set to be debated in Congress by the end of this year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, would establish a uniform standard across all military services, including both a person-to-person interaction and a review of relevant health records.

In addition to annual screenings, this bill would establish an interagency working group of DOD and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) experts to review current practices and make recommendations on how to improve mental health services for the National Guard. This group would be required to report back to Congress with suggestions on how to expand best practices and eliminate ones that are no longer working in order to better address the rising suicide rate among Guard members. Finally, this bill will emphasize privacy protections for all service members so as to better ensure that service members are encouraged to come forward if they need help. The Sexton Act is named after Indiana National Guardsman Jacob Sexton, who took his own life while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan. 

Schumer noted that the Sexton Act has received the support of a number of prominent military service, veteran and mental health organizations, including: 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 (IAVA); Military Officers Association of America (MOAA); 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.

Schumer was joined by Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner, local Marine Corps members, active duty Air National Guard members, and veterans from various military campaigns.