In an attempt to reduce suicides among combat veterans, a bill pending in the U.S. Senate would expand mental-health monitoring of those who fight our nation's wars.

In an attempt to reduce suicides among combat veterans, a bill pending in the Senate would expand mental-health monitoring of those who fight our nation’s wars.

The bill would require all active-duty soldiers and reservists to be evaluated by a mental-health professional before deploying to a war zone, after their return and before they head back to combat.

“When I hear of young men and women whose life is ended too soon or who have to silently battle behavioral-health issues, it absolutely devastates me,” said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who submitted the legislation, along with 16 co-sponsors.

The bill has its origins in the 2007 suicide of Chris Dana, a Montana National Guard veteran who took his life 18 months after returning from Iraq. His death stunned the Montana National Guard, prompting the state to institute an extensive screening effort that became a model for the national bill.

A CBS News investigation last year found that suicide rates among veterans ages 20 to 24 were estimated at more than twice that of the general population in the same age group.

Among active-duty military personnel, the Army last year reported a record rate of 20.2 suicides per 100,000 soldiers, and suicides this year are on pace to push the rate even higher.

The Baucus bill seeks to identify combat veterans with post-traumatic-stress disorder, suicidal tendencies and other mental-health concerns, and to help them find medical treatment. The evaluations by Defense Department mental-health professionals or contractors would involve either face-to-face sessions or long-distance tools that permit video conferencing.

Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or hbernton@seattletimes.com