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Donnelly bill would require yearly mental health screenings for military

Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., has introduced a far more extensive version of his 2013 legislation aimed at preventing military suicides.

“What we’ve done is try to strengthen it, make it even better,” Donnelly said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters.

The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act would require yearly in-person mental health screenings for all members of the military – Reserve and National Guard units as well as active-duty personnel.

The bill also would establish a working group from the Defense and the Health and Human Services departments to recommend ways to improve mental health services for Reserve and Guard members.

“There is no one solution, there’s no cure-all to prevent military suicide, but this problem is not too big to solve,” Donnelly said.

He said the military reported 522 suicides in 2012 and 470 last year.

The Indiana National Guard operates an air base and an infantry regiment in Fort Wayne. Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree, public affairs officer for the Indiana Guard, said the Guard does not provide suicide statistics for cities or sites, but she said 19 members of the Indiana National Guard have taken their own lives since 2010.

Donnelly’s bill is named for a Guardsman from Farmland, in Randolph County, who fatally shot himself inside a Muncie movie theater in 2009. Jacob Sexton was a member of a Hammond-based infantry regiment and was on leave from Afghanistan when he killed himself.