This Memorial Day, as we show our appreciation for those who have bravely served and honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our country, we must also recognize the ongoing needs faced by service members and their families.
Over the past 15 years more than 2.5 million people have served in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Upon returning home, the physical wounds of war are most apparent, but some injuries are not readily visible.
Despite increased awareness and expanded efforts to address behavioral health issues in the military, our service branches still face challenges when it comes to early detection and prevention. Issues such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress, and suicide remain all too common. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, every day 22 veterans commit suicide. This is clearly unacceptable and all too preventable.
On May 15, the House of Representatives passed the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2016. This perennial legislation included an amendment that I authored to build upon previous efforts for suicide prevention in the military, by instituting a mental health screening for all recruits.
A recent Army study confirmed the need to address mental health issues in a timely manner, finding that, “nearly one in five Army soldiers enter the service with a psychiatric disorder, and nearly half of all soldiers who tried suicide first attempted it before enlisting.”
My amendment is respective of service member privacy, and the mental evaluation cannot be used in determining promotions. Furthermore, it will ensure that we have a better baseline for the mental health of a service member during his or her military career.
These brave men and women put their lives on the line every day in the service of our nation, and it is our responsibility to offer everything in our power to guarantee they return home safely, both physically and mentally.
For those heroes who have not been returned to us safely, it pains me to know there are still young men and women who have not been recovered. In Washington, I have elevated the need to ensure our government makes every effort to recover their remains. This touches close to home, where my office has been working with the families of Maj. Lewis P. Smith II, Capt. Darl R. Bloom and Lt. David Myers, all casualties of the Vietnam War.
Smith, of Bellefonte, took on enemy fire and his plane went down in Laos on Memorial Day 1968.
Bloom, of Clearfield, went missing on Nov. 13, 1964, over the South China Sea, when he collided with another plane. An extensive search by air and sea was conducted, but pilot Bloom has yet to be found.
Myers was the pilot of UH-1E with three other crew members when their helicopter gunship was struck by enemy fire. The crew managed to land the craft on top of a ridgeline and all were rescued, with the exception of Myers.
Despite all of the challenges, we will never give up until these soldiers are returned home.
Memorial Day for many Americans has become the holiday that marks the start of the summer season. But for the men and women who have served in our armed forces, and in doing so gave their lives, we owe them our remembrance and demonstrated appreciation.
It is my sincere hope that you take time this Memorial Day to honor our fallen soldiers and the new generation of heroes who equally deserve our respect, gratitude and the promise of continued support.