A law authored by U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) is now implemented throughout the Armed Forces.
The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act was named after an Indiana National Guard member died from suicide in 2009 while on leave from Afghanistan. Donnelly says the bill, his first as a senator, was based on common sense.
“It recognizes that mental fitness, like physical fitness, is a crucial component of military readiness,” Donnelly says.
Starting this year, all service members are required to have mental health screening. The law also increases privacy measures and mental health services. Jeff Sexton, Jacob’s father, says these might have helped his son.
“It gives them a chance to come forward, without feeling they’re going to be persecuted for saying they’ve got a problem,” says Sexton.
Indiana has the sixth largest National Guard and loses between three and seven members a year to suicide.
Major Scott Edwards is a military psychologist and says the law has increased access to mental health care.
“It’s a chance to do a mental health gut check and give them a chance to say, ‘Hey I need a little extra help,’” says Edwards.
All service members receive a mental health assessment during their annual physical.