In an initiative to reduce the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health issues, the Department of Defense (DoD) released new guidance that empowers service members to begin their own referral for mental health evaluations.


The new policy complies with the Brandon Act, named after Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Caserta, a sailor who died by suicide in 2018 at Naval Air Station Norfolk, Virgina. Under the new guidance, the referral process for a mental health evaluation starts with service members talking to their commanding officer or a supervisor who is in a minimum grade of E-6. After this initiating discussion, the commander or supervisor will refer the service member to a mental health provider for a mental health evaluation as soon as possible.


The referral can start on any basis, at any time, in any environment, and patient’s rights and confidentiality are protected as much as possible in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996.


A few issues that have commonly kept service members from seeking mental health treatment have included, but are not limited to: concerns over being perceived as “weak” or “unreliable” by other service members, loss of a security clearance (required for certain jobs), possible retaliation, and potential bureaucratic difficulty involved in getting help.


“Our greatest strength is our people, and we are committed to their well-being,” said Gilbert Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness who signed the policy into effect. “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.”


Under the recent change, the Defense Health Agency will work with the DoD’s various organizations to implement the policy, ensuring the different departments can properly educate their members on requesting a referral for a mental health evaluation, and train commanding officers and supervisors who receive requests, so they can take appropriate, efficient action.


The Brandon Act was a bipartisan bill that President Joe Biden signed into law as part of 2022’s National Defense Authorization Act.


“I worked with Republicans and Democrats to get the language of the Brandon Act in the defense bill,” said Arizona Senator Mark Kelly, one of the bill’s sponsors. “Thanks to the tireless advocacy of Teri and Patrick Caserta [Brandon’s parents], and bipartisan support in Congress, our efforts will help us confront military suicide head on and save the lives of other young service members.”


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