National Security

Tragic Loss Promotes Awareness at State of the Union Address

  Words by Warrior Actual

Jeff Sexton, father of Army Specialist Jacob Sexton who tragically committed suicide in October 2009, will be attending the State of the Union address as the personal guest of Sen. Joe Donnelly.  Donnelly has been a longtime supporter of ensuring active-duty soldiers and veterans get the mental health care and support they desperately need.

Sexton son was a veteran having served combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was on a 15 day leave when his suicide took place in his small hometown of Muncie Indiana. 

Knowing that this issue was highly important to Sen. Donnelly, Jacobs’s family contacted his office offering their help on the matter.  They expected no response in return but where surprised when they were contacted by the Senator and a meeting was arranged to figure out the best way they could combine efforts to make a change.  The Sextons did not want any other soldiers or their families to have to suffer the same tragic loss.  Senator Donnell asked the permission of the family to submit a bill he had been working on in Jacob’s name.  The family whole heartedly agreed hoping their story could help others. 

With consent from the parents, Senator Donnelly introduced the Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act of 2013.  The purpose of the bill would be to make mental health assessments mandatory for military members in order to assist in the detection of behaviors that could indicate a potential risk of suicide.  An amendment was introduced requiring the Department of Defense to use new assessment tools to evaluate and screen military service members for risks of suicide and other mental health issues.  It would require the first superior officer of every military member to complete a computerized mental health behavioral assessment annually. 

This is to be done by the commanding officer due the fact that they have daily interactions with the service members and therefore could offer an adequate picture of behavior when completing the assessment.  Assessment are to be given not only in times of deployment but also when service members are at their assigned military stations.  Senator Donnelly points out that military members are given annual physical evaluations and their mental health status should be given the same consideration.  This will hopefully prevent undiscovered mental health issues to be brought to light and treated before it is too late.  Mr. Sexton was unaware that his son had been suffering mentally and when asking his son’s friends at the funeral if they had noticed anything unusual, he expected a negative response.  To his surprise, the friends and fellow soldiers had noticed a difference in his behavior and unfortunately it was never detected by the right people to get him the help he needed. 

Suicide by military members and veterans is at an alarmingly high rate.  In 2012, more active military service members died by suicide, approximately 350, than died in combat and more than 6000 veterans took their own lives.  More frequent and in depth mental health assessments may be on solution to help lower this rate in the future and prevent more lives from being lost. 


Reading next