Army implements Brandon Act mental health policy amid pressure from suicide prevention advocates
2023/09/08

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The Army this week implemented new Congress-mandated mental health rules that allow soldiers to request access to care for any reason, the service announced Friday.

Army Secretary Christine Wormuth issued orders Tuesday adopting the new policy Congress mandated in the 2021 Brandon Act, which sought to allow service members to confidentially and quickly request a mental health evaluation to stem military suicides. The Army’s announcement comes more than a month after the Pentagon’s other military departments adopted the Brandon Act and amid pressure from the parents of the law’s namesake, Brandon Caserta, who accused the service of slow walking the policy and railroading their requests for information on suicides.

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The Pentagon in May announced it had adopted the Brandon Act policies, which President Joe Biden signed into law in 2021, and it gave the military departments 45 days to adopt them for active-duty troops. The Department of the Navy, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps, adopted Brandon Act polices on July 11, and the Air Force Department, which oversees the Air Force and Space Force, adopted the new polices on July 28.

“I call on leaders to continue making it clear that taking care of your mental health and your family is encouraged,” Wormuth said in a statement issued Friday on the policy’s adoption. “We must constantly look for additional ways to connect our soldiers with the necessary resources for their well-being, and the Army’s new policy to implement the Brandon Act gives soldiers another tool to seek help while honoring the legacy of Petty Officer Caserta.”

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Caserta was a 21-year-old naval squadron flight electrician who died by suicide at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., in 2018 after years of alleged bullying. His parents, Teri and Patrick Caserta, founded the Brandon Caserta Foundation after his death and have spent years lobbying for improve mental health care in the military, including co-authoring the Brandon Act.

The couple in recent weeks accused the Army of failing its soldiers amid a recent spike in suicides at Fort Cavazos, the former Fort Hood, in Texas.

“The Army public relations always says, ‘One suicide is too many.’ There were three in two weeks, and you are silent,” Teri Caserta, president of the foundation, said in a statement this week addressing Wormuth and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after reports emerged of three recent suicides at the large Army post. “Not having the Brandon Act implemented is completely irresponsible. These deaths are on you both.”

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Army officials earlier this week said the service had been working diligently to implement the new policies. The Casertas on Friday thanked the Army for adopting the Brandon Act policies.

“We did not want our son to die in vain,” Patrick Caserta, a retired Navy senior chief and a combat veteran, said in the statement issued by the Army. “We are in the lifesaving business, and we will remain in this business the rest of our lives. We thank the secretary of the Army and her staff for implementing this policy.”

The military has grappled with service member suicides for years. The number of suicides among active-duty troops rose from 75 in the first quarter of 2022 to 94 in the first quarter of 2023, according to the most recent data from the Defense Department’s Suicide Prevention Office.

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The Army, the largest military service, is most affected. Almost 50 service members died by suicide in the first three months of 2023 compared to 37 service members in the first three months of 2022, according to the office.

Army officials said Friday that they hoped the new policies would help cut suicides among its soldiers.

The new policies allow any active-duty soldier or member of the Army Reserve or National Guard on active-duty for more than 30 days to request a mental health evaluation through their commanders or supervisors in the rank of staff sergeant and above for any reason, according to the service. It mandates those commanders or supervisors to “quickly and confidentially connect soldiers with resources.”

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“Soldiers will not be required to provide a reason or basis to request and receive a referral,” according to the Army. “Mental health providers will conduct the mental health evaluations as soon as possible and will provide necessary clinical care.”

Service members, veterans and family members who need help can call the Military Crisis Line/Veterans Crisis Line at 988, chat at veteranscrisisline.net or text to 838255.

[email protected]

Twitter: @CDicksteinDC

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