By Sandie Love
INDIANAPOLIS – Sen. Joe Donnelly, D- Ind., is trying to prevent suicide among military men and women.
In his fourth statewide tour since being sworn in, he visited with health care providers, service members and veterans across the state to learn about what mental health services are working, where there can be improvements and to discuss his first bill as Senator.
Donnelly is sponsoring a bill that would establish a pilot program in each of the military services to integrate annual mental health assessments into a service member’s annual health review.
The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013 was inspired by Jacob Sexton, a native of Farmland, Ind., who committed suicide in 2009. He had been serving in Afghanistan was home on leave when he took his own life.
Sexton’s parents have been big supporters of the bill, traveling to Washington D.C. in order to advance it. Donnelly said they want to make sure no other family has to deal with such a tragic event.
“You talk about incredible bravery,” Donnelly said. “These parents have lost their son and they talk to others and say, ‘We wants this to count. We want to make sure that no other family has to deal with this.’”
The bill also relies on commanding officers. Donnelly said he believes the commanding officer is one of the most important factors in determining the health of a soldier.
“The chain of command is there to help them, not just to pass judgment on them,” Donnelly said. “Nobody knows that person better than the person they directly work for.”
In 2012, 349 active service members committed suicide.
Donnelly said some take their lives after returning home from deployment because of the financial and relationship pressures forced on them.
“We have asked our service members to go over to Afghanistan and Iraq time and time after time,” Donnelly said. “And while they are there, their family is at home, trying to struggle to pay bills, to try to keep a relationship together, so it’s not only done overseas, but over here as well.”
Though the bill aims to protect soldiers and servicemen, the bill is also an attempt to protect the people at home. The goal is to identify the signs that a military man or woman is struggling before that person chooses to take their life.
Donnelly said the country owes this to those who have served. They deserve to have health checkups.
The bill also attempts to remove the stigma that surrounds the mental health issues soldiers might face. They want military members to feel as though they can seek help without it affecting their career.
“That’s my job as senator,” Donnelly said. “To make sure they understand that we are looking out for them, we want them to come home, and we want them to have an extraordinarily wonderful life back in the Hoosier Heartland.”
Sandie Love is a reporter for Thestatehousefile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
Correction: This post has been corrected from its original version. The original story incorrectly reported the number of military members who commit suicide while on duty. That has been removed from the story. TheStatehouseFile.com regrets this error. You can see all our corrections at http://thestatehousefile.com/info/corrections/.