By REP. ANDRÉ CARSON
Three hundred forty-nine members of the United States military committed suicide in 2012 — a total higher than the number of combat casualties in Afghanistan during that same period. This 15 percent increase over the year prior points to a dangerous national epidemic and a failure to address the invisible wounds of war inflicted on members of the proudest military force in the world.
Congress has an immediate role to play and an undeniable responsibility to confront these challenges head-on. That is why this week I am introducing two pieces of legislation that seek to stave off further increases in military suicide and ensure we are addressing the prevalence by which American heroes are taking their own lives.
For too long, we have failed to see our own duplicity in how we deal with wartime injuries. When a member of our military is struck by an enemy bullet or mortar, medics rush to their assistance. We provide immediate treatment and take the necessary precautions to keep our troops healthy and strong. Yet when it comes to their mental health, our soldiers are often abandoned on the battlefield to cope with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and depression. These unseen wounds are often just as deep and their consequences just as severe, but they go untreated. Worse yet, we have created an environment in which proactively seeking treatment is considered taboo.
My first bill, the Military Suicide Reduction Act, requires service members to undergo mid-deployment mental health evaluations. This common-sense solution will improve our ability to quickly diagnose these deadly conditions and provide necessary treatment, even while our service members are in the theater of war. It is morally incomprehensible that our men and women in uniform can go untreated and their injuries unnoticed through months of deployment. The current policy, which assesses mental health before and after deployment, is futile when we are unnecessarily losing hundreds of men and women each year to preventable causes.
In addition, the Military Mental Health Empowerment Act, which will also be introduced this week, helps remove the stigma associated with seeking treatment. Too many service members fear that pursuing treatment will negatively affect promotion decisions and stall their careers — a dangerous misperception. My bill will ensure that, upon entering the military, every service member will receive comprehensive information about mental health services, how records can be used and their rights to privacy. We need changes to current policy that make it clear — if you are fit for duty, simply seeking help will not hold you back. Our service members should never feel they need to choose between their career and their health.
The men and women of our armed services commit to this nation a rare level of service and sacrifice. They put themselves on the front lines of our national defense, and they should be commended for their bravery and selflessness. But if we are to truly honor their devotion, we must be willing to take the necessary steps to protect them. It is time we comprehensively address mental health in the armed services.
As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue my fight to ensure that service members’ mental health is a priority for our military and our nation. I urge my colleagues to join me in these efforts.
Rep. André Carson is a Democrat from Indiana.
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