By Oren Liebermann, CNN
The Pentagon is set to implement a law that requires them to provide mental health services for troops after a delay of more than a year, according to a defense official with knowledge of the matter.
The law is named the Brandon Act after Brandon Caserta, a 21-year-old sailor who took his own life at Naval Air Station Norfolk in June 2018. In letters to his parents and to his friends, Caserta said he was constantly hazed and bullied in the Navy, and he saw no other way out.
“This will save lives,” said Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton, who sponsored the act, in a statement. “Shame on the Pentagon bureaucrats who took 15 months, during which even more service members died by suicide, to make this happen. The DOD still has a lot of work to do to curb the shockingly high number of suicides among our young men and women who serve, but this is a big step in the right direction.”
Passed into law as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the Brandon Act requires the military to provide a mental health evaluation if a service member self-reports a problem or seeks help. It also allows service members to seek confidential help outside the chain of command.
But the law languished for more than a year, as the Defense Department said it was working on how best to put into effect the requirements of the act. On Friday, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros is expected to sign a policy to start the implementation of the law, the defense official said.
Caserta had told his commanders that he was suffering from depression, but they took no action, according to his father, who served 22 years in the Navy, and his mother.
“It took way too long for something like this to take place,” Teri Caserta told CNN. “A bill like this that can save military service members’ lives, we should not have had to fight this hard.”
Caserta’s parents plan to attend the Friday signing ceremony at the Pentagon.
“I’ve had so many service members’ moms tell me that if the Brandon Act was in place, their son or daughter would be alive today,” Caserta said.
In 2021, the latest year for which numbers are available, 519 US service members died by suicide. Though a slight decrease from the previous year’s 582 suicides, the trend over the last decade and more has been increasing.
“Once implemented, service members will be able to request a mental health evaluation for any basis, by initiating a referral through a commanding officer or supervisor,” Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez told CNN in a statement. “The new process will require the commander or supervisor to refer the service member to mental health provider and protect the confidentiality of the service member to the maximum extent practicable in accordance with applicable laws and DoD policy.”
In March, Sen. Mark Kelly, a Democrat from Arizona who co-sponsored the Brandon Act, pressed the Defense Department on why it had yet to implement the law.
“In DoD, this is a major problem,” Kelly said at the time. “It’s affecting readiness. But that’s not the reason to do it. The reason to implement this is it’s the right thing to do and it will save people’s lives.”
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gil Cisneros is expected to sign the policy to implement the law on Friday.
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