Wicker calls for action to reduce suicides in military

WASHINGTON – A Senate committee could take action this week on a measure co-authored by Republican Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi that aims to reduce what Wicker says is the alarming rate of suicide among military service members.

“We have a problem in the military that we need to address,” Wicker said.

He and Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana introduced the bipartisan proposal on May 7. Both are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

They hope to attach the legislation as an amendment to a fiscal 2015 defense policy bill that the committee was expected to begin marking up Wednesday.

“Our strategy is to have it attached to a bill that must pass,” Wicker said. “We are getting some positive traction. … We’re going to give it a hard push.’’

The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2014 calls for uniform mental health assessments for all service members. It also would set up an inter-agency group, including officials from the Pentagon and the Health and Human Services Department, to improve mental health services for members of the National Guard and Reserve.

The measure also would require defense officials to produce an annual report on screenings and follow-up services and to submit a report to Congress about efforts to improve mental health services.

The bill is named after Jacob Sexton, an Indiana National Guardsman who committed suicide in 2009 while on leave from Afghanistan.

Hattiesburg American