Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, signed a policy today to initiate implementation of the Brandon Act and improve the process for service members seeking mental health support.
The Brandon Act aims at improving the referral process for service members seeking a mental health evaluation and allowing them to seek help confidentially, Cisneros said.
The Brandon Act is named after Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta who died by suicide in 2018. The legislation was signed into law by President Joe Biden on Dec. 27, 2021, as part of the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
"Our greatest strength is our people, and we are committed to their well-being," Cisneros said. "Therefore, I firmly believe that seeking mental health treatment is a sign of strength and resilience. This policy, spurred by the passage of the Brandon Act, is an important step in ensuring that our service members are able to seek mental health treatment when and how they need it. We honor Petty Officer Brandon Caserta's memory by ensuring that our military services have procedures and processes in place that allow service members to seek help confidentially, for any reason, at any time and in any environment, and aim to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care."
The Defense Department 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, thereby reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, Cisneros said.
Implementation of the policy will occur in two phases. In phase one, which should be implemented within 45 days, the services will establish procedures to implement the policy for service members on active duty. In phase two, the services will establish procedures to implement the policy for service members not serving on active duty, he said.
Lester Martinez-Lopez, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said the implementation of the Brandon Act is a welcome addition to the range of tools and resources available to support the mental health needs of the joint force. He also noted that the Defense Health Agency is developing annual training to educate service members and supervisors on the process to initiate a request for a mental health evaluation.
For the Brandon Act to have its intended impact, it's important that commanding officers and supervisors are trained on the process to expedite mental health referrals so that help is provided when it's most needed, Martinez-Lopez said. Recognizing the signs of mental health issues and knowing the available resources to offer is also key, he said.
A range of mental health and wellness support is available to service members worldwide. In addition to requesting a referral for a mental health evaluation through their commanding officer or supervisor, service members will continue to have the option to contact their local health care provider directly, Military Health System officials said.
Additional mental health resources include the 988 Veterans Crisis Line, Military OneSource nonmedical counseling, and the 24/7 Psychological Health Resource Center. For more information, visit health.mil/brandonact.
Brandon's parents, Teri and Patrick Caserta, said their son endured persistent hazing and bullying from members of his squadron when he reached out for help.
"He was not taken seriously. Brandon felt the only solution to his problem was to end his own life," Patrick said.
"Our son's story is tragic and senseless, but we're pleased that Congress passed the Brandon Act. It allows for confidential reporting of mental health concerns and ensures resources are available to help those who are struggling," Teri Caserta said.
Support service members who ask for help by letting them know it's okay. Refer them to a chaplain, counselor or medical professional, and give them the time they need, Patrick Caserta advised.