Making mental health care a priority

Bill passed to help is not in effect

By J.M. Simpson on July 7, 2022

The military has not yet put into effect a federal law designed to protect service members who experience mental health emergencies and to reduce the stigma of reporting them.

The Brandon Act is included in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2022. The act is named after Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who died by suicide in 2018.

The measure was authored by Representative Seth Moulton, D-Mass, and he is baffled as to why the act has not been acted upon. He said that he asked Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin a year ago about the Pentagon's commitment to the Brandon Act.

"He assured me that he was ‘prepared to do everything it takes to improve' and that the service chiefs were focused on it," said Moulton.

In March of this year, Austin ordered the creation of a new, independent committee to review suicides in the military and find ways to improve suicide prevention and response programs.

"It is imperative that we take care of all our teammates and continue to reinforce that mental health and suicide prevention remain a key priority," Austin wrote to the Pentagon's senior leadership.

"One death by suicide is one too many. And suicide rates among our service members are still too high."

According to the Department of Defense, 580 service members died by suicide in 2020, a sixteen percent increase from 2019.

"I still fail to understand why it has taken so long if this is truly one of Secretary Austin's priorities," continued Moulton.

Benjamin Gold, a military law attorney, explained that it is reasonable for the military to take eight months or more to consult with the its medical community to work through the process of how to implement the act.

"I understand that mental health is a huge problem ... But what people tend to forget is that the military is ultimately not about an individual person. It is about a mission."

The Brandon Act does two things. It expedites mental health evaluations and it provides a confidential channel for service members to self-report mental health issues without informing their superiors.

Craig Bryan, a clinical psychologist and Air Force veteran who specializes in military suicides, commented that fear of negative career consequences is still one of the most frequently cited barriers to seeking mental health treatment.

"Increasing confidentiality protections could remove this key barrier for many service members who would benefit from mental health treatment."

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources. All service members and veterans can also call the Military Crisis Line at 1-800-273-TALK.