SCHUMER ANNOUNCES, AFTER HIS PUSH, PROVISION TO HELP CUT DOWN ON ALARMING MILITARY SUICIDE RATE INCLUDED IN JUST-UNVEILED NATIONAL DEFENSE BILL; WOULD INCREASE MENTAL HEALTH SCREENINGS FOR SERVICE MEMBERS IN SYRACUSE – URGES COLLEAGUES TO SUPPORT BILL; PASSAGE IN CONGRESS WOULD THEN SEND REQUEST TO PRESIDENT’S DESK
Schumer Joined With Syracuse Veterans & Service Members Last Month To Push 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 At High Risk & Screening Is Needed For Them
Over 1,500 NYS Veterans Have Taken Their Own Life In The Last Ten Years & Almost 500 Service Members Take Their Lives Each Year; Suicide Rate Among National Guard & Reserves Is Growing
Schumer to Colleagues: Pass National Defense Bill & Help Prevent Future Service Members & Families From Experiencing The Pain of Suicide
Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer announced that The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 has been included in the just-unveiled National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Last month, Schumer joined with Syracuse service members and veterans to advocate for this bill, which would help stem the growing military suicide rate by expanding mental health screening for servicemembers. 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 servicemembers who have never deployed. The bill 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 every year regardless of deployment status. Schumer explained that this legislation has been included in the National Defense Authorization Act that was unveiled just yesterday. Schumer said that the House could vote on the NDAA as early as this week and the Senate will then vote on the same bill next week. If the bill passes both chambers, it will head to the President’s desk for him to sign into law. Schumer is urging his colleagues in both the House and Senate to vote for the bill that will help the brave men and women who work to protect our freedom every day.
“Caring for the members of our military is not a partisan cause; it is an American one. Providing access to mental health screenings for all of our servicemembers each year, regardless of whether they recently deployed or not, should be a no-brainer. The inclusion of this bill in the national defense authorization bill means that we are on the precipice of finally making this a reality,” said Senator Schumer. “All we need now is for this bill to pass both the House and the Senate, and then the request heads straight to the President’s desk. I am urging my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to vote for this bill and help us identify those who are most at risk before it is too late through these annual screenings. 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. 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.”
“We are one step closer to The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act being signed into law. Our service men and women serve our country honorably, putting their lives on the line in our defense, and we owe it to them to ensure they have access to the mental health resources they deserve,” said Senator Joe Donnelly of Indiana. “This bill is named for Indiana National Guardsman Jacob Sexton, who took his own life while home from Afghanistan on leave, and it takes common sense steps to prevent military suicide.”
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 was incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act after his urging, will improve access to mental health services and professionals for all active servicemembers 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 servicemember’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 servicemembers 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 servicemembers in New York State. In addition to these active and guard numbers, there are thousands of reservists in the State of New York. 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 servicemembers 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 servicemembers, 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. Finally, this bill will emphasize privacy protections for all servicemembers so as to better ensure that servicemembers 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.