Military law good step in preventing suicides

Daily Journal

The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act seeks to combat the scourge of military suicide.

The landmark legislation passed the House and Senate late last year as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. Under the law, the military will put into place annual mental health assessments that will help save lives.

For two years, Sen. Joe Donnelly has championed

the bill, and we celebrate its passage along with the

Hoosier Democrat.

For two straight years, the nation has seen more military suicide deaths than combat fatalities. In 2012, 522 men and women in uniform took their own lives, while 316 died in combat. In 2013, a record number in the National Guard and 474 service members died overall, more than three times the number killed in combat.

Among the losses in recent years was Jacob Sexton, a Hoosier from Farmland, who joined the Indiana Army National Guard and served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. While home on a 15-day leave in 2009, Jacob took his own life in a Muncie movie theater. He was 21.

In a news release, Donnelly said Sexton’s story and the stories of so many others like him inspired this legislation, and his parents, Jeff and Barb, have worked nonstop to help raise awareness of this issue.

Donnelly said that is why he introduced the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act with Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi. The Sexton Act aims to make mental health a central element of a service member’s overall readiness in three key ways:

It requires annual mental health assessments for all service members, including members of the Active, Guard and Reserve components.

It will ensure that seeking help remains a sign of strength by maintaining strong privacy protections for service members.

It requires a Pentagon report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement, including peer-to-peer programs that have been proposed in the past.

While the bill itself won’t prevent military suicides, it takes a positive step. We congratulate Sen. Donnelly on pushing the measure, and we share his hopes for its effectiveness at reducing the rate of deaths.

Our men and women in uniform serve our country honorably, putting their lives on the line in our defense. We owe them our gratitude, support and access to services that can help ease their burdens, heal their wounds, and stay physically and mentally strong for the next fight. We have more work to do, but the Sexton Act is progress and should begin making a difference for our service members.

At issue

Military suicides are taking more lives than combat.

Our point

A bill championed by Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, seeks to address the issue.