Washington, D.C. — The final piece of U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly’s “Servicemember and Veteran Mental Health Care Package” (“Care Package”) passed the Senate Thursday as part of the bipartisan national defense bill. The legislation now goes to President Obama’s desk to be signed into law. This will mark the fourth military mental health reform effort Donnelly has gotten passed and enacted in his four years in the U.S. Senate.
Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee said, “Getting the final piece of the Care Package signed into law is about getting our servicemembers better access to high-quality mental health care. As we work to reduce the stigma around mental health and continue to combat military suicide, we will have to ensure that the programs from my ‘Care Package’ are fully implemented by the Defense Department.”
Donnelly’s bill that passed as part of the national defense bill is his Frontline Mental Health Provider Training Act. Given the shortage of mental health care providers, Donnelly’s provision allows the Department of Defense (DoD) to establish a pilot program to expand the availability of Physician Assistants (PAs) to provide mental health care evaluations and services for servicemembers and military families.
Donnelly has worked effectively and tirelessly over the past four years to find commonsense, bipartisan solutions to combat military suicide and strengthen military mental health care. He has already had three military mental health provisions signed into law:
- In 2014, Donnelly’s bipartisan Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act was signed into law. Named for Hoosier Jacob Sexton, a National Guardsman who took his life in 2009, the law, for the first time, requires an annual mental health assessment for all servicemembers including Active, Guard, and Reserve.
- In 2015, two provisions from Donnelly’s “Care Package” were signed into law, which aim to help expand access to quality mental health care for servicemembers and veterans through both military providers as well as community providers. These included:
o A provision that creates a special designation, and an online registry, for private sector, community mental health providers who demonstrate – either through training or past experience – a strong knowledge of military culture and evidence-based therapies for mental health issues common to veterans and servicemembers.
o A provision that requires all DoD primary care and mental health care providers receive evidence-based training on suicide risk recognition and management.
According to the Department of Defense, through the first six months of 2016, 221 servicemembers were lost to suicide. In 2015, 478 servicemembers took their own lives. Last year marked the fourth consecutive year that more troops were lost to suicide than combat. In 2014, 444 servicemembers took their own lives. In 2013, 475 servicemembers were lost to suicide.