Holt brings Bean bill back amid rise in vets’ suicide rate

Army report says 145 Guard, Reserve members took their own lives in 2010

Staff Writer

 Sgt. Coleman Bean Sgt. Coleman Bean Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) is renewing efforts to pass a bill that is intended to strengthen treatment resources for returning soldiers.

His reintroduction of the measure, which was suddenly removed from the federal Defense Authorization Act of 2011 in December, was bolstered by a Jan. 19 announcement from the U.S. Army that suicide rates among National Guard and Reserve veterans had increased significantly.

“In the coming weeks, I will be reintroducing the Sgt. Coleman Bean Reserve Component Suicide Prevention Act, which has passed the House unanimously twice, but was blocked by members of the Senate minority,” Holt said. “My legislation, named in memory of a constituent who tragically took his own life after serving two combat tours in Iraq, would directly address the lack of follow-up with at-risk Guard and Reserve members …”

Army Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli issued a report in January indicating that in 2010, the Army’s active-duty force saw a slight drop in the number of suicides, from 162 in 2009 to 156.

However, there was a significant rise in the number of suicides among National Guard and Reserve units, nearly doubling from 80 deaths in 2009 to 145 in 2010. “I am thankful that the efforts of Army Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli and the Army as a whole has led to a slight reduction in the number of suicides among our active duty soldiers,” Holt said. “However, as Gen. Chiarelli acknowledged today, the doubling in suicides among Guard and Reserve members is both alarming and a call to action.”

For East Brunswick resident Greg Bean, whose son Coleman was 25 when he took his life on Sept. 6, 2008, a few months after returning from his second tour in Iraq, the numbers demonstrate the need for action.

“TheArmy’s recent release of the horrible increase in the number of suicides among National Guard and Reserve soldiers lends credence to what we’ve been saying all along — that we must do more to reach out to these veterans to provide them with the counseling and guidance they need to avoid reaching such desperate straits,” Bean said.

He added that he is troubled that the number of suicides among members of the Army’s Individual Ready Reserve, of which Coleman Bean was a member, is still unknown.

Holt said he hopes that the reintroduction of the suicide prevention bill in Coleman Bean’s name will lead to a swift passage and deliver “the best possible suicide prevention and counseling services our country can provide.”

Coleman Bean had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after his first tour, but he had limited access to veterans’ services as a member of the U.S. Army’s Individual Ready Reserve (IRR) and was called back to duty without receiving treatment.

Holt hopes to fill the void in the military’s suicide prevention efforts among members of the IRR, and for other soldiers who are designated as individual mobilization augmentees (IMAs).

His measure would ensure that those who have served at least one tour receive a counseling call from trained personnel at least once every 90 days.

The personnel conducting this call would determine the emotional, psychological, medical and career needs and concerns of the veteran. Those identified as being at risk of harming himself or herself would be referred immediately to the nearest military treatment facility or accredited TRICARE provider for evaluation and treatment by a qualified mental health care provider.

The Defense Department would be required to confirm that the at-risk veteran has received the evaluation and any necessary treatment.

Last year, the Bean bill passed through the House in July, but it was stuck in the Senate until it was removed from the federal Defense Authorization Act of 2011 by U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, who reportedly deemed the measure unnecessary.

McCain’s office did not respond to this newspaper’s request for comment.

“I don’t believe Rep. Holt’s bill was taken seriously by some of those in power when it was before Congress in the past, as evidenced by Sen. McCain’s statement after pulling it from a larger bill that ‘You might need something like this in New Jersey, but we don’t need it in Arizona,’ ” Greg Bean said. “Clearly, as national statistics show, they do need it in Arizona, and in every other state in our nation that has veterans in the National Guard, the Reserve or the Individual Ready Reserve.

“I hope the bill Rep. Holt introduces soon is even stronger and more comprehensive than the last one. And I hope that after these recent statistics were released, even more attention will be focused on filling this pressing, life-threatening need,” he said.

Holt said the bill will be reintroduced as a stand-alone measure. He said he will attempt to include its language in military health care legislation. It will once again require approval from the House in order to advance to the Senate.