WASHINGTON D.C. — U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand this week renewed calls to pass legislation improving military personnel and veterans’ access to mental health care.
Gillibrand, a frequent advocate for improving mental health services and chair of the Senate Armed Service Personnel Subcommittee, is reigniting calls to pass the 2020 Brandon Act. The Brandon Act, if passed, would modify regulatory requirements for referring a service member for a mental health evaluation and require commanding officers to make referrals as soon as practicable while retaining anonymity for service members, according to congressional documents.
Currently, Department of Defense (DOD) policies require mental health experts to report mental health-related cases to commanding officers, but Gillibrand notes commanding officers are not required to provide opportunities for mental health treatment — a policy which she says “lacks accountability, can lead to mistrust and serves as a barrier to treatment.”
“If significant interventions are not implemented, we will continue to see deeply concerning suicide rates among our active-duty service members and veterans,” Gillibrand said. “We owe it to these brave men and women to end the stigma on mental health and eliminate barriers that stand between our service members and veterans and access to mental health care.”
According to Gillibrand’s office, this call comes in response to the recent DOD 2020 Annual Suicide Report. The report states that 580 service member deaths were attributed to suicide throughout the year; representing an increase over the reported 498 suicide deaths in 2019, according to the DOD report.
Gillibrand’s call also comes in the wake of three 10th Mountain Division soldiers believed to have taken their own lives at Fort Drum earlier this month, she said.
“These aren’t just numbers, these are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters. And as the recent tragedies at Fort Drum prove, no community is immune to this crisis,” Gillibrand said in a statement.
Gillibrand, citing RAND Corporation research from 2019, said more than 45,000 veterans and active-duty service members died as a result of suicide over the six-year period from 2013 to 2019.
According to DOD, suicide rates among service members and veterans reached a five-year high in 2018 and in 2017, 136 veteran’s died to suicide in New York — representing a death nearly every other day.