INDIANAPOLIS — An Indiana soldier's suicide in a Muncie movie theater during a 2009 leave has led to a federal law that will change how the military handles mental health issues.
The national defense bill signed into law by President Barack Obama on Friday includes a provision requiring all members of the military to receive annual mental health assessments beginning next year. The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act was sponsored by Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly.
Sexton, an Indiana National Guardsman from Farmland, killed himself while on a 15-day leave from Afghanistan. He was 21.
Police said at the time that Sexton had argued with theater employees over having to show identification to see the R-rated horror comedy "Zombieland." Twenty minutes into the film, a friend handed Sexton a 9 mm handgun, at the guardsman's request, and he then shot himself in the head.
Sexton's father, Jeff Sexton, said Friday that he believes his son wanted help but was afraid to speak up.
Statistics show 475 people in the military committed suicide last year, while 132 died in combat.
In addition to the mental health screenings, the Sexton act takes steps to protect service members' privacy and requires a Pentagon report to evaluate existing military mental health practices and provide recommendations for improvement, Donnelly said in a statement.
He told WISH-TV (http://bit.ly/1GAgoeR ) that his hope is to eliminate military suicide.
"I was asked by somebody, they said, 'What's your real goal?' I said 'My real goal is to get it to zero.'"
The bill passed the Senate on what would have been Jacob Sexton's 27th birthday.
Jeff Sexton said he hopes the legislation changes the stigma of mental illness and leads more members of the military to seek the help they need.
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