September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and the Peoria-based Brandon Caserta Foundation is urging increased awareness of the Brandon Act and its inclusion in the curriculum of Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs in public schools across the United States.
The U.S. Army's JROTC program operates in more than 1,700 public and private high schools, military institutions, and correctional centers nationwide and overseas. Serving a diverse student population, with approximately 40% of programs located in inner-city schools and 50% minority students, JROTC provides a platform for teaching leadership and citizenship.
Teri Caserta, co-founder of the Brandon Caserta Foundation, emphasizes the importance of early education.
"The Brandon Caserta Foundation welcomes the opportunity to work with the U.S. Army and every branch in increasing awareness about the Brandon Act, especially in these early formative years of these young students who dream of serving their country," she said.
"Our son had the same passion and love for his country and was proud to wear his military uniform. We truly believe that had the Brandon Act existed while he was alive, he would still be with us. Every day, we talk to military families whose service member loved ones are experiencing situations that may threaten their well-being if they don't get help. Education has to start earlier at the JROTC level."
Patrick Caserta, co-founder of BCF, underscores the importance of collaboration between BCF and JROTC.
"The Brandon Caserta Foundation believes deeply in the code of honor and service to God and Country. A partnership between BCF and JROTC would benefit hundreds of thousands of future servicemembers from the get-go. They would learn about the importance of how mental health makes them better soldiers, where the resources are, and how to access them if they are ever in a crisis and feel like they need assistance," he said.
"We have to remove the stigma of asking for mental health help. BCF is here and ready to work with JROTC to develop class presentations, educational materials, and talks with local experts on the importance of mental health."
BCF proposes the installation of informative signage in every JROTC location, offering students information about the Brandon Act and where to seek additional resources.
Teri Caserta emphasizes the urgency of starting this education early.
"Learning about the Brandon Act will make America's future servicemembers healthier, more resilient, and ready to complete the missions they may one day face. We have to start now to get them ready," she said.
"BCF is committed to making a difference in the lives of young students and future service members. By advocating for the Brandon Act's inclusion in JROTC programs and promoting mental health awareness, we strive to create a safer and more supportive environment for our nation's youth. Together with the U.S. Army and JROTC programs, we can work towards a brighter, mentally healthier future for our young leaders."