House Backs Mental Health Exam to Stop Military Suicides

Friday, 23 May 2014 01:34 PM

By Drew MacKenzie

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A new mental health screening program for potential military recruits that could prevent suicides in the forces — and even possible shooting rampages — was given approval by the House on Thursday.

The bipartisan bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, was an amendment attached to the massive 2015 defense budget, according to Stars and Stripes.

The proposal calls for the National Institutes of Health to launch a mental health evaluation system for would-be enlistees that would highlight any past suicide attempts and psychiatric disorders.

The information would be able to help recruiting officials reject applicants with mental health issues that could result in them being a danger to themselves and others, the newspaper reported.

Thompson said potential recruits are currently not seen by mental health professionals in the same way that they are given a complete physical examination before they are signed up.

"Let's take it right back to the point of induction," Thompson said. "There is no mental health exam, and that was startling."

The congressman noted that his bill would create a comprehensive mental exam that could prevent recruits from enlisting who have suicidal tendencies or appear likely to carry out sudden acts of violence.

Under the current system, pending recruits are questioned about mental issues and whether they've ever tried to kill themselves, while background checks are routinely carried out. But Stars and Stripes says that the process has often failed to catch troubled soldiers entering the armed services.

In recent years following the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the military has been overwhelmed by the number of suicides by veterans and servicemen and women, as well as the vast increase in mental health disability claims.

Thompson said that many troops and veterans who committed suicide had made attempts before they enlisted, while noting that the military is also facing the new problem of mass shootings on military bases.

In April, Spc. Ivan Lopez killed three people and wounded 16 others at Fort Hood in Texas before killing himself. Mental health experts have since indicated that Lopez fit the psychological profile of a possible rampage shooter.

And last September, Aaron Alexis, a defense contractor and former petty officer in the Navy, went berserk in the Washington Navy Yard, killing 12 people. He was also said to have suffered from mental health issues that had not been detected during his enlistment process.

Thompson's measure has been backed by veterans groups and organization that support members of the service, including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the National Guard Association, and the Military Officers Association of America, said Stars and Stripes.

The bipartisan bill has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican and Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia. The final Pentagon budget, called the National Defense Authorization Act, is due to be passed by the Congress later this year.

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