South Bend Tribune
In introducing the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Act, which offers mental health services for all active duty, reserve and National Guard service members and was signed into law last year, Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly noted that there is not “one solution, no cure-all to prevent military suicide. But this problem is not too big to solve.”
Donnelly, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, clearly is committed to identifying solutions. Last week, he unveiled a trio of bills intended to reduce suicides among military personnel and veterans.
The Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package would require Defense Department and Veterans Affairs medical providers to receive regular training in suicide risk recognition and management; develop a designation for private-sector and community providers that demonstrate “strong knowledge” of the medical needs of troops and veterans; and create a pilot program for expanding the use of Defense and VA physician assistants who specialize in psychiatry.
Donnelly told reporters that the legislation aims to “ensure that the providers have the knowledge, training and the tools needed to deliver the best care.”
That there’s a need for such support should not be up for debate: In 2013, there were 132 combat deaths of service members; 475 took their own lives. In the first nine months of last year, there were 326 suicides among servicemen on active duty, in the National Guard and reserves, according to the Department of Defense.
As he did with the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Act, Donnelly has lined up Republican co-sponsors to make it clear that this mental health care package isn’t a partisan issue. That should go without saying, but unfortunately, it’s necessary in these hyperpolitical times.
Additional effort will go into ensuring that the legislation would not increase the deficit.
It’s common for lawmakers to voice their support for the troops and for all who have served.
But backing up these expressions by honoring this nation’s commitment to care for those sent off to fight for our freedoms is what really counts. Congress must act on the debt owed to veterans and service members alike.
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