WASHINGTON (WAVY) — Legislation to provide better access to mental health services for military members will be re-introduced next week on Capitol Hill, and the parents of the sailor for whom the bill was named are hoping it will become law.
Brandon Caserta was 21 when he died by suicide on Naval Station Norfolk. He had washed out of SEAL training in San Diego, but so do the vast majority of those who even qualify for the training. The course is known as BUDS, or Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL training, and Caserta was mocked with the label “BUDS dud.”
Caserta ended his life by jumping into the rotor of a helicopter. A military investigation found that his lead petty officer’s abusive actions were a likely contributing factor, and that officer was removed from the position.
The Brandon Act would make a more direct path to mental health resources and remove the chain of command to access services, and hold the chain of command accountable for suicides if officers did not take appropriate action to prevent them.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) sponsored the original legislation, which never came to a vote last year. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) talked about his support for the bill in an interview with 10 On Your Side last summer.
Brandon Caserta’s father Patrick Caserta says the Pentagon wasn’t ready to own up to the number of service members who need help but can’t get it.
“The first fix to a cure is admitting you have a problem. DoD’s never admitted they have a problem,” he said.
Patrick and Teri Caserta say the problem is the military’s culture when it comes to harassment, bullying and hazing.
“Not being okay is okay. If they need help, they need to get the help,” Teri Caserta said.
According to the most recent Defense Department data released in October, the military suicide rate has risen steadily over the past five years.
“Since then, and these are is the numbers they’ve released and the number is actually higher, 571 service members have died. That was a costly mistake of ‘We don’t want this,'” Patrick Caserta said.
The Casertas say the Brandon Act will help keep service members alive by giving them a pathway to help that will be more direct and more confidential, and protect them from retaliation.
Patrick Caserta is a Navy veteran where he was a psychological counselor.
“When they get on that highway to death, it puts a roadblock in there to get them help, so a psychologist can show them that life is worth living, and you have a support network of family and friends outside of your command,” he said.
The Casertas feel they have more momentum this time around to get the legislation passed that bears their son’s name to help service members in crisis and their families.
“We don’t want them to go through what Brandon went through, and we certainly don’t want their families to go through what we’ve been through,” Teri Caserta said.
“Something needs to be done,” Patrick Caserta said. “DoD needs to be held accountable.”
The Casertas will travel from their home in Arizona to attend a vigil for Brandon on the third anniversary of his death, June 25 from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach. Organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens, it will also include representatives from mental health agencies dedicated to helping members of the military.