Wicker, Donnelly Join Forces on Bipartisan Military Suicide Prevention Legislation

May 7, 2014

WASHINGTON – Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today introduced legislation to advance efforts in military suicide prevention.

The “Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014” is named after Indiana National Guardsman Jacob Sexton, who took his own life while home on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan. The bill updates the 2013 version to incorporate improvements based on feedback from the Department of Defense (DOD), suicide prevention organizations, and service members.

“The number of military suicides each year is heartbreaking,” Wicker said.  “Service members and their families should not have to wait for critical mental health assistance.  This bill would immediately put into practice steps to give members of our military the help they need in a safe and private manner.  These men and women sacrifice so much for our country and deserve our full support.  Senator Donnelly and I are committed to seeing this bill enacted into law.”

Donnelly said, “There is not one solution, no cure-all to prevent military suicide.  But this problem is not too big to solve. I am proud to work with my friend Senator Wicker on the ‘Jacob Sexton Suicide Prevention Act of 2014,’ which would have an immediate impact on our service members by seeking to better identify those struggling with mental health issues and ensure they receive the help they need before it’s too late.  I was able to introduce Jacob’s parents to Senator Wicker when they were my guests at this year’s State of the Union, and I know we both share the desire to address the scourge of military suicide in a common sense way and to address it immediately.  We owe it to the Sextons and families all over the country who have experienced this tragedy to try to prevent it from happening again.  Together with our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, we will work nonstop to pass the bipartisan Sexton Act.”

DOD recently announced that the country lost 522 service members to suicide in 2012. Early data show the toll for 2013 at more than 470 service members. Although suicides among active-duty service members declined modestly, suicides among members of the National Guard have continued to rise, hitting a record high last year. Already in 2014, military leaders have publicly expressed concern over an unprecedented spike in suicides rates so far this year.

The Sexton Act of 2014 seeks to address these issues by:

  • Requiring assessments for all servicemembers — Active, Reserve, and Guard.  Right now, the best and most consistent screening is happening only for those within the deployment cycle and leaves members of the National Guard and Reserve underserved;
  • Establishing a working group between the Department of Defense and Department of Health and Human Services to improve mental health services for the National Guard and Reserve, where service members often rely on civilian health insurance and providers. Despite improvements elsewhere, suicides climbed to a record level in 2013, according to a DoD report;
  • Requiring an interagency report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement; and
  • Ensuring that seeking help remains a sign of strength by protecting the privacy of the servicemember coming forward.