Congressman André Carson (D-IN) introduced today two pieces of legislation that directly address increases in military suicide and the stigma associated with pursuing mental health treatment. The Military Suicide Reduction Act and the Military Mental Health Empowerment Act take steps to ensure deployed service members have access to quality mental health services, as well as comprehensive information about their privacy and how mental health records may be utilized by the armed forces.
In 2012, 349 of our brave men and women in uniform took their own lives, surpassing for the first time the number killed in combat in Afghanistan. This 15% increase over the year prior illustrates a well known fact--despite efforts at the Department of Defense to increase screening, counseling and awareness, the U.S. military continues to struggle with the stigma associated with mental illness. As a result, service members consistently resist treatment and hide warning signs, attributing underperformance in combat and difficulty readjusting to civilian life to less serious causes.
The Military Suicide Reduction Act expands on current pre- and post-deployment mental health screenings by requiring each service member to receive evaluations while deployed in combat zones. By mandating regular screening during deployment, when injuries and trauma are most likely to occur, the likelihood of early detection and treatment are significantly increased.
"We are quick to diagnose and treat service members who are injured in combat, with medics rushing to those who are struck by enemy IEDs or gunfire," said Congressman Carson. "But when it comes to the mental health challenges placed on our service members, we abandon them through months of deployment to deal with post traumatic stress disorder, depression and suicidal thoughts."
It is well documented that mental health issues, if left untreated, contribute not only to suicide, but to higher rates of domestic violence and substance abuse--especially when combined with financial and relationship difficulties that are common among deploying service members.
Congressman Carson's second bill, the Military Mental Health Empowerment Act, ensures service members also receive comprehensive information about available mental health services, privacy related to their mental health records, and clarification that simply seeking help will not result in barriers to promotion or future career prospects.
"Seeking help shouldn't be something our service members have to second guess; they shouldn't have to fear drawing unwanted attention to themselves or derailing their careers," Congressman Carson said. "We have a responsibility to bring this issue into the light and give our service members the support they deserve."
Congressman Carson went on to say, "The invisible wounds of war are costing us gravely, but it is within our power right now to change that and start saving lives."