Pentagon enforces mental health law after army suicide rates skyrocket
The act is named after Brandon Caserta, the 21-year-old sailor who committed suicide at the US Naval Air Station Norfolk back in June 2018 after informing his parents and friends that he was constantly being hazed and bullied in the Navy.
As a result of rising suicide rates in the US Army, the Pentagon has taken the initiative to enforce a law that requires the provision of mental health services for troops seeking help called The Brandon Act.
Passed into law as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the act was signed by Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros, and also allows service members and active-duty troops to ask for help confidentially outside the chain of command.
The act is named after Brandon Caserta, a 21-year-old sailor who committed suicide at the US Naval Air Station Norfolk back in June 2018. That occurred after he informed his parents and friends in several letters that he was constantly being hazed and bullied in the Navy.
Brandon’s mother, Teri, now leads an advocacy group for suicide prevention among active-duty troops and veterans. She said that she notified his commanders that he was suffering from depression but none of them acted quickly enough.
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Democratic Senator Tim Kaine stated, “For over a year, I’ve been working with Brandon Caserta’s family to push the Department of Defense to implement the Brandon Act, which will help service members access the mental health support they need".
He added that “the Casertas lost their son under unimaginably horrific circumstances and have turned their grief into an effort to help other service members. I’m glad DOD is finally implementing this important bill to honor Brandon and prevent future tragedies".
According to official reports, 519 US service members committed suicide in 2021, the latest updates show, demonstrating a slight decline from the previous year’s 582 suicides.
In a statement released Friday by Lester Martinez-Lopez, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, he said, "Once implemented, service members will be able to request a mental health evaluation for any basis, by initiating a referral through a commanding officer or supervisor."
Martinez-Lopez believes that the new step will need the commander to refer the help-seeking member to a mental health provider and "protect the confidentiality of the service member to the maximum extent practicable in accordance with applicable laws and DoD policy."
The establishment of an independent committee responsible for reviewing the military’s mental health and suicide prevention programs was announced back in March by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
DoD data shows that suicides jumped by more than 40% between 2015 and 2020, while a 15% increase was seen in 2020 alone.
The Pentagon admitted back in February that it is facing difficulties in recruiting new people to the US army. The agency's report revealed that in 2022, the army planned to recruit 70,000 people.
However, by June 2022, the army dropped the number to 60,000, and by the end of the fiscal year in September, only 45,000 were enlisted. The Economist found that the year 2022 witnessed the lowest enlistment figures since 1973.
"Most of today's young adults are unaware of what it means to serve," Under Secretary of the Army Gabe Camarillo said in March. "About 75% have little to no knowledge about the Army, and only 9% have the propensity to serve, the lowest it has been in over a decade."