NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — The Brandon Act is designed to protect service members who experience mental health emergencies that result from hazing, bullying, or any other issue. It would allow them to seek help anonymously and, if necessary, outside their chain of command.
“He wanted the bullying and the hazing to stop,” said Brandon Caserta’s mother, Teri.
So badly, in fact, that Brandon, a U.S. Navy sailor, ended his life by jumping into the running tail rotor of a helicopter.
“Brandon did not die in vain,” she said in a Thursday interview. “What he did and how he died really did send a message to the Navy and the nation.”
The Casertas say a series of setbacks and an abusive superior led Brandon off the edge. It started with Navy SEAL training in San Diego, and that wash out became a topic for harassment later.
He got assigned to a helicopter squadron at Naval Station Norfolk, where his father says he was mentally abused and harassed by his direct supervisor.
“We have been told by many in the command over the past couple years that Brandon went to them and said I’m depressed and I need help and they said ‘Suck it up and get back to work. You’re fine,'” said Patrick Caserta.
A Navy report said Brandon’s lead petty officer was eventually removed from the position, and his abusive actions likely contributed to Brandon’s death.
The Brandon Act will enable service members with mental health issues to get help immediately without fear of retaliation.
“If you invoke the Brandon Act, you’re gonna be able to go (and get mental health services) right then and there, there’s nothing they can do. And on top of that you have officially (notified) them,” Patrick Caserta said.
Congressman Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) sponsored the Brandon Act last Thursday, introducing it on the second anniversary of Brandon’s death. A marine who served in Iraq, Moulton is managing post-traumatic stress. The Casertas say U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine’s (D-Va.) office was also instrumental, and feel that the Brandon Act has a good chance of becoming law.
Brandon’s parents would eventually like to see the chain of command held accountable when they fail to enable help for service members in a mental health crisis, but see the Brandon Act as a positive first step.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free and confidential support for people in crisis 24-7. It’s 800-273-8255.
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