Giving soldiers new mental health options.
by Nicholas Slayton
(Photo by Pfc. Paige Pendleton, U.S. Army)
More than three months since the Department of Defense adopted new mental health policies, the U.S. Army has officially rolled out new guidance for mental healthcare under the Brandon Act.
Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth signed the new guidelines this week, which immediately went into effect. Soldiers are now able to ask their supervisor or commander for a referral for a mental health evaluation.
“I call on leaders to continue making it clear that taking care of your mental health and your family is encouraged,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in an Army release on the new policy. “We must constantly look for additional ways to connect our Soldiers with the necessary resources for their well-being, and the Army’s new policy to implement the Brandon Act gives Soldiers another tool to seek help while honoring the legacy of Petty Officer Caserta.”
The act is named for Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, who committed suicide in 2018 after failing to become a Navy SEAL. It was found that Caserta was also a victim of a toxic culture and did not have access to mental health counseling to help him deal with his struggles. His parents became advocates for mental health reform in the military after his death. The act was passed in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, and all military branches were required to implement it.
Under the Army’s guidelines, any soldier can as a supervisor with the rank of staff sergeant or above to get them a referral for a mental health evaluation. They do not need to state a reason for the request. The Army said that counselors will conduct the evaluation “as soon as possible” and provide necessary healthcare.
The new rules are in effect for active-duty soldiers, as well as the Army National Guard and any Army reservists with more than 30 days of active duty service. Guidelines for National Guard soldiers or reservists who don’t meet those categories are being written, the Army said.
The Army adopted the policy later than other service branches; the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy implemented the Brandon Act in July, while the Department of the Air Force, which encompasses the Air and Space forces, did so in August. All branches were required to draft and enact their guidance's within 45 days of the Pentagon signing the Brandon Act into action, although they all failed to meet that deadline. The delay in implementing the Brandon Act came as the Army only just released its own suicide prevention plan, three years after it originally planned to.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. Reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling or texting 988 and you’ll be connected to trained counselors.