The Department of Defense released implementation guidelines Friday for the Brandon Act, legislation that will allow service members to seek mental health treatment confidentially.
The policy directs the services to establish policy, assign responsibilities, and provide procedures for service members to request a referral for a mental health evaluation through a commanding officer or supervisor. The process allows service members to seek help confidentially for any reason, at any time, and in any environment — in the hope that would prevent the stigma associated with seeking such treatment.
Each service has 45 days to implement the policy for active-duty members. There will be a longer process for non-active-duty members.
The signing of the Brandon Act marks a milestone in a three-year battle by Patrick and Teri Caserta. The couple championed the act after their son, Brandon Caserta, died by suicide in 2018.
The Petty Officer 3rd Class was serving a helicopter sea combat unit when he died in June 2018 at Naval Station Norfolk. In letters to his parents and to his friends, Caserta said he was constantly hazed and bullied in the Navy, and saw no other way out.
President Joe Biden signed the Brandon Act into law as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. But enforcement and implementation requirements were not included in the bill, leaving it up to the Department of Defense to work the legislation into its policies at its leisure.
“We cannot believe it took this long to pass and implement a bill that will saves lives. We watched the suicide numbers go up every year since Brandon’s death in 2018 which was extremely hard knowing the devastation of each family it affected,” Teri Caserta said in an emailed statement.
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There was renewed push for the implementation of the Brandon Act after Hampton Roads-based Navy installations reported seven sailors died by suicide last year, contributing to 328 active-duty suicides total.
The local deaths include three sailors linked to the USS George Washington, who died by suicide within a week in April while the carrier was undergoing an overhaul at Newport News Shipbuilding. A Navy report issued in December concluded that the deaths were not connected. Less than eight months later, between Oct. 30 and Nov. 26, four sailors assigned to Norfolk’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center died by apparent suicide. And since the start of the year, two more Norfolk-based sailors have died by suicide.
The death of 22-year-old Kody Decker, a Virginia Beach native, was the first to be confirmed by the MARMC command. An electronics technician, Decker served aboard the USS Bataan from Dec. 2019 to Aug. 2022 before he was diagnosed with adjustment disorder and reported to MARMC on limited duty. He died by suicide Oct. 29, just two months later.
“This is sad but wonderful in the same breath. I am very happy that it is finally being implemented and I pray it will benefit those that need it,” said Robert Decker, Kody’s father, in a text message. “Like I said before, it prevents more families from living this nightmare. “It is sad because I can’t help but think that if this had already been in play (implemented), my son, ET3 Kody Lee Decker, could possibly still be here with us.”
Said Melissa Decker, Kody’s mother: “Nothing will ever bring my son back, but hopefully this will help save more lives of those who have so bravely volunteered to serve our country.”
Resources for service members and veterans struggling with mental health, including 24-hour crisis hotlines:
- The Military Crisis Line: call 1-800-273-8255, ext. 1; or text “273Talk” to 839863
- Military OneSource: 1-800-342-9647
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 988 — call or text
Caitlyn Burchett, firstname.lastname@example.org