One military family isn’t giving up the fight to get a bill passed that would help service members with suicidal ideations get immediate and confidential assistance — no questions asked.
Patrick and Teri Caserta said they are determined to honor the legacy of their son, Brandon Caserta, a sailor who took his own life in 2018 while stationed at Naval Station Norfolk. After first being introduced last year by Sens. Seth Moulton and Martha McSally, the Brandon Act failed to make it to a Congressional vote. But the Casertas say they are even more hopeful that the legislation will become law the second time around. The bill was reintroduced on Capitol Hill in June.
“The bottom line is we’re killing our own,” said Patrick, a retired Navy recruiter, on the afternoon before he planned to travel to Washington with his wife for a press conference announcing the reintroduction of the bill. “When everybody understands this, a light will go on in their head, and they will say, ‘You know what, somebody needs to do something about this.’ And we need to unite to do it. We have no more children, so this is for America. We just want to make a difference.”
The Casertas first got inspired to initiate change after reading notes left by Brandon that claimed he experienced a pattern of verbal abuse and bullying from his petty officer and members in his command. Brandon indicated that he felt like he had nowhere to turn for fear of additional hazing and retaliation. The Brandon Act’s mission is to make it safe and accepted for service members to receive mental health services. A safe phrase would trigger an immediate referral.
“Every American, especially our heroes in uniform, deserves mental health support at work,” said Moulton at the reintroduction press conference. “Brandon deserved that, but we let him down.”
According to the DOD Quarterly Suicide Report (QSR), for the first quarter of 2021, there were a total of 115 suicide deaths including active duty, reserves, and National Guard members.
Patrick said while he recognizes bills are hard to get passed, he feels confident that the Brandon Act will be able to spur necessary change.
The bill is now sponsored by LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) as part of the Save Our Servicemembers (SOS) Campaign that highlights the importance of safety in the military ranks. Additional lawmakers who have shown support include sponsor Sen. Mark Kelly, Rep. Debbie Lesko, Rep. Mark Takano, and many more, including 10 House sponsors as of late June.
Patrick says Brandon would be proud of his and Teri’s commitment to the Brandon Act.
“He truly cared about people,” said Patrick. “This is his legacy and what he would want, and if I remember correctly, in one of the letters that he left, he put in there that, ‘I hope things are already better in the command.’ I truly believe that he sacrificed himself to bring attention to the problem.”
The Casertas predict they will find out the fate of the Brandon Act by November. Teri advises military families not to give when trying to garner the support of lawmakers and incite important changes that they believe in.
“They just need to be persistent,” she said. “They have to be adamant. The squeaky wheel basically gets the grease. They have to ask their lawmakers for what they want. Don’t be afraid to ask.”
Show support for the Brandon Act
Teri Caserta says that military families interested in showing support for the Brandon Act (H.R. 3942 and S. 2088) should contact their state legislators and let them know that they support the bill. She created a petition that will generate a letter to go directly to representatives and senators based on zip code.
More information can be found at thebrandonact.org and on Facebook and Instagram @thebrandonact.