September 15, 2020

Moulton, Trahan, Speier Request Inclusion of Servicemember Mental Health and Suicide Provisions in Final NDAA Conference Agreement

SALEM, MA – Today, House Armed Services Committee Members Seth Moulton (MA-06), Lori Trahan (MA-03), and Jackie Speier (CA-14), along with 22 of their colleagues, sent a letter to House and Senate Armed Service Committee leaders requesting that they retain critical mental health and suicide prevention provisions in the final NDAA agreement. The provisions are a sizable step forward in reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care or treatment for suicidal thoughts.

“Since disclosing that I was managing post traumatic stress, I’ve tried to help break stigmas that make it too hard to get support for mental health. Congress can lead the way past stigmas using the NDAA,” Congressman Moulton said. “Last year my colleagues supported my plan to require mental health checkups to all service members who experienced combat. This year we are taking that a step further and we are fighting for the Brandon Act so service members being bullied or hazed can seek help outside the chain of command. Let’s get this done.”

“There is simply no excuse for the increased rate at which our servicemembers are dying by suicide,” said Congresswoman Trahan. “We owe it to them and to their loved ones to do everything possible to provide the resources and protocols necessary to treat mental health conditions when they first arise and prevent future suicides. These commonsense proposals were adopted with strong bipartisan support in the House, and they should absolutely be included in the final version of this legislation that will become law.”

“Military suicide is an epidemic we’ve known about for years, yet the Department of Defense has shown scant progress. Military leadership has failed to reduce the stigma surrounding seeking help, and in some cases has made it worse. For those who do reach out for life-saving mental health services, access is abysmal. This is a national embarrassment,” said Congresswoman Speier, Chair of the House Armed Services Military Personnel Subcommittee. “The conferees must keep the provisions introduced by Reps. Trahan and Moulton to address access problems and improve the data collected by the DoD so that we can develop meaningful solutions to fix this crisis. I will also hold a hearing to explore the PREVENTS Task Force’s recommendations to reduce servicemember and veteran suicide so that we can determine the best way to introduce some of their recommendations in advance of the next NDAA.”

Access to mental health care and counseling remains an issue in the Armed Forces that can have devastating lifelong and even fatal repercussions. According to the Pentagon’s most recent annual suicide report on military suicides, 541 servicemembers across the military’s active and reserve components died by suicide in 2018. Alarmingly, the report also shows an increase in the suicide rate among active duty servicemembers over the past five years.

Representatives Moulton, Trahan, and Speier requested that a number of the provisions included in the House-passed NDAA to improve mental health care for troops and reduce the increasing servicemember suicide rate be retained in the final version of the bill.

Those provisions include:

  • The Brandon Act, legislation introduced by Moulton in honor of Navy Petty Officer Brandon Caserta, which mandates that the Secretary of Defense create a code phrase that would enable servicemembers to automatically self-refer themselves for a confidential and immediate mental health assessment if they feel they are in need of one.
  • Trahan’s Comprehensive Review of Military Suicide Act, to establish a multidisciplinary review board made up of unit-level commanders, mental and medical health professionals, and military investigative representatives that will be responsible for compiling data after a suicide event to improve the Department of Defense’s (DoD) ability to prevent future suicides;
  • Language that requires DoD to include data in their Annual Suicide Report that indicates the number of suicides that occurred within one year of deployment and the total amount of suicides where a servicemember was prescribed medication to treat a mental or behavioral health diagnosis in the year preceding the death;
  • And a required expansion of person-to-person mental health assessments for servicemembers who participated in “warfighting activities” as part of a military operation so that support servicemembers are also receiving regular mental health evaluations;

The full text of their request is embedded below. A digital copy can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.


The Honorable Adam Smith
Chairman
House Armed Services Committee
2216 Rayburn Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Mac Thornberry
Ranking Member
House Armed Services Committee
2216 Rayburn Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
The Honorable Jim Inhofe
Chairman
Senate Armed Services Committee
205 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
The Honorable Jack Reed
Ranking Member
Senate Armed Services Committee
228 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Thornberry, Chairman Inhofe, and Ranking Member Reed:

Thank you for your leadership as you work to conference the House and Senate-passed bills for the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 2021 NDAA). 

We write to urge you to retain the following provisions to address the high suicide rate in the military and improve mental health services in the final conference agreement. As you know, our servicemembers are dying by suicide at increasingly higher rates each year. It is clear that more needs to be done to prevent our men and women in uniform who sacrifice so much from taking their own lives.

When it comes to mental health treatment, we know all too well that stigma poses a barrier to seeking help for many servicemembers who may need it. The House-passed NDAA (H.R. 6395) includes provisions that would expand mental health assessments without compromising confidentiality. It is imperative to learn more about the root causes of these traumatic events in order to issue better preventative measures.

The following sections of H.R. 6395 are critical to overcoming the mental-health-stigma barrier and advancing information-sharing solutions to prevent suicides among our troops:

Multidisciplinary Board to Evaluate Suicide Events — Please retain H.R. 6395, Section 540, which would create a multidisciplinary board composed of a unit-level commander, medical & mental health professionals, and representatives from military criminal investigative organizations (NCIS, CID, OIS) to gather necessary data to make a comprehensive suicide event report after each suicide incident. This information-sharing process would enhance the Department of Defense’s ability to better understand, analyze, and report suicide trends so it can make informed policy solutions to prevent future servicemember suicides.

Reports on Suicide among Members of the Armed Forces and Suicide Prevention Programs and Activities of the Department of Defense — We support H.R. 6395, Section 732, which requires DoD’s Annual Suicide Report to include data indicating the number of suicides that occurred within 1 year of deployment, as well as the number of suicides where the servicemember was prescribed a medication to treat a mental health or behavioral health diagnosis during the 1-year period preceding the death. This section also would add a new requirement to describe programs carried out by the military departments to reduce the stigma associated with seeking assistance for mental health or suicidal thoughts.

Expansion of Mental Health Assessments for Members of the Armed Forces — We support inclusion of H.R. 6395, Section 701, which would require the Secretary of Defense to provide regular, person-to-person mental health assessments to servicemembers who participated in warfighting activities that had a direct and immediate impact on a combat operation or other military operation. These mental health assessments would be conducted at a frequency and schedule similar to assessments required for servicemembers deployed in support of a contingency operation, who receive regular mental health assessments before, during, and after the deployment.

Mandatory Referral for Mental Health Evaluation — We support inclusion of H.R. 6395, Section 702, also known as the Brandon Act, which would require the Secretary of Defense to prescribe regulations to establish a code phrase, such as “Brandon Act,” that enables members of the Armed Forces to self-refer for a mental health evaluation. This section would require a commanding officer or supervisor to make such referral as soon as practicable following disclosure by the member to the commanding officer or supervisor of the code phrase.

We applaud the bipartisan and bicameral advances in mental health resources made available in the military health care system and look forward to supporting continued efforts to provide the best possible care and support to our servicemembers and their families. While there is much more to be done, we believe that these provisions are important advances. As you reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills, we ask that you retain these potentially life-saving provisions in the final FY 2021 NDAA. Thank you for your attention to this request.

Sincerely,

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