Air Force, Space Force Offer New Mental Health Referrals Under Brandon Act

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U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Beckett discusses mental health services available to members of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Beckett, 36th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron mental health flight clinical social worker, discusses mental health services available to members of Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, at the Meehan Conference Center, April 21, 2023. (Staff Sgt. Aubree Owens/U.S. Air Force photo)

Airmen and Space Force Guardians can now request a mental health referral from their superiors and will be connected with a medical professional within one day under the Brandon Act.

The act was signed into law in December 2021 after a 21-year-old sailor died from suicide. The Department of the Air Force has now implemented the law -- the latest military branch to do so -- and troops in the two services can voluntarily request an immediate mental health referral from a commander or supervisor with a rank of E-6 or above.

"Service members may request a referral for any reason, including, but not limited to, personal distress, personal concerns or trouble performing their duties," the Air Force said in a Monday press release. "They are not required to provide a reason or basis for the referral."

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Once notified, superiors will "contact the mental health clinic and request an appointment for the member the same or next day," the release said. That follow-up will be a face-to-face, telephone or telehealth appointment.

Unlike other mental health referrals, the new policy under the Brandon Act is initiated by the service member versus having a mandatory referral initiated by superiors, giving the rank and file some control over their situation.

The Department of the Air Force program is called "the Brandon Act -- The Commander/ Supervisor Facilitated Referral Program."

Active-duty airmen and Guardians can submit the mental health referral at any time and in any environment, including deployed areas, according to the press release. It also applies to service members in active-duty status as a member of the select Reserve, those assigned to a temporary duty station, or those on leave.

"It is mandatory for commanders and supervisors to honor a Brandon Act request," the Department of the Air Force said in the release.

The legislation is named for Brandon Caserta, a naval aircrew aviation electrician's mate assigned to Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 28 in Norfolk, Virginia. He died by suicide on June 25, 2018. According to his parents and a subsequent command investigation into his death, Caserta had been bullied by a supervisor and little was done to stop the abuse.

"The path for the Brandon Act has been long," Teri Caserta, mother of Petty Officer Caserta, said in the Air Force press release. "But as each military service implements the act, it has renewed our hope -- hope that these new rules will save the lives of those who are serving on our behalf."

Under a Defense Department directive issued in May, the services were to implement the policy within 45 days for active-duty members and then work to implement the policy for National Guard and reserve members.

The Department of the Air Force's public announcement is nearly two months past that May deadline.

Military.com reported last month that the Defense Department did not craft the policy in response to the law until this May. In that interim, 440 active-duty service members across the six armed forces died by suicide, according to records kept by the Pentagon and the Coast Guard.

The Navy and Marine Corps unveiled their new mental health measures under the Brandon Act last month.

In addition to the new mental health referral policy, the Air Force and Space Force are also developing training on recognizing when a service member might need mental health resources and how a member may obtain a Brandon Act referral that protects their privacy.

"Few things are more important than improving access to mental health," Chief Master Sergeant of the Space Force Roger Towberman said in the press release. "Every improvement matters.”

Veterans and service members experiencing a mental health emergency can call the Veteran Crisis Line, 988 and press 1. Help also is available by text, 838255, and via chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net.

-- Thomas Novelly can be reached at thomas.novelly@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.

Related: Navy, Marine Corps Roll Out 'Brandon Act' Policy to Improve Members' Access to Mental Health Treatment

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