The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps have apparently become the first U.S. service branches to implement the Brandon Act, a set of policies that provide service members with a confidential evaluation and greater access to mental health care.
Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro signed the instruction Monday, according to the parents of Brandon Castera and a USNI News report Tuesday. President Joe Biden signed the measure into law in December 2021 as part of the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
The act is named for Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Castera, an aviation electrician. Castera, 21, died by suicide June 25, 2018, at Naval Station Norfolk, Va. A command investigation found that a combative and toxic leadership contributed to his death.
Brandon’s parents, Teri and Patrick Castera, two months after his death started a push to get the measure passed, an uphill battle of phone calls and trips to the Pentagon, Patrick Castera told Stars and Stripes by phone Wednesday.
“He will forever be saving lives and his death meant something, as tragic as it was,” his father said. “I know he’s smiling at us. He had a smile and made everyone want to smile.”
The Brandon Act allows service members to seek confidential help for any mental health issue, at any time, in any environment, thereby reducing the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment.
The act requires a mental health evaluation as soon as service members self-report, according to thebrandonact.org, a website the Casteras created. The Brandon Act “will also allow Americans serving in uniform to seek help confidentially and, if necessary, outside of the chain of command,” according to the website.
The measure also mandates annual training from the Department of Defense on recognizing members who may need a mental health evaluation.
Under the law, commanders and supervisors must ensure that service members understand the procedure for requesting a mental health evaluation, ensure they are referred as soon as possible, maintain privacy protections and not seek the results of evaluations, among other requirements.
Del Toro called the Casteras as they drove to their Peoria, Ariz., home with word that he had signed the order to implement the act, Patrick Castera said. Del Toro read the policy over the phone and said he was signing it on the spot, Castera said. The secretary later sent a photo of the signed document to the Castera family.
“It brought tears to our eyes knowing that he actually signed the act into Navy and Marine law,” Teri Castera said. “It was thrilling.”
The Casteras posted the news Tuesday on The Brandon Act Facebook page, where a flood of comments followed.
“This is amazing,” Petty Officer 2nd Class Emilie Nielson, a gunner’s mate, wrote. “I can’t tell you how many hoops I had to jump through to seek help for my own mental health through the military. This is a huge step in the right direction.”
Two months ago, Nielson, of Albuquerque, N.M., was stationed on the amphibious transport dock USS Mesa Verde, when she experienced difficulty getting help for anxiety and depression, she told Stars and Stripes via Facebook Messenger on Wednesday.
“When I was on the ship, the big issue I faced was getting an appointment,” Nielson said. The process involved getting screened by medical specialists who set up a doctor appointment for a referral to a therapist, she said. The process could take weeks or months.
“There’s a saying the Navy has: ‘Ship, shipmate, self,’ which to me is completely backwards,” Nielson said. “If I can’t take care of myself first, how can I take care of my shipmates or my ship? When I told my command about my view on the saying I received some pushback.”
The Navy recorded 72 suicides in fiscal 2022, according to the Defense Department.
“This is to erase the stigma out there about mental health, it is OK to seek help,” Patrick Castera said.
1. Russia halted a breakthrough wartime deal on Monday that allows grain to flow from Ukraine to countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia where hunger is a growing threat and high food prices have pushed more people into poverty. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would suspend the Black Sea Grain Initiative until its demands to get its own food and fertilizer to the world are met. While Russia has complained that restrictions on shipping and insurance have hampered its agricultural exports, it has shipped record amounts of wheat.
2. Thousands of airmen and dozens of aircraft are deployed throughout the Indo-Pacific this month for the largest readiness exercise in the history of Air Mobility Command, according to the U.S. Air Force. Mobility Guardian, which began July 5 and concludes Friday, involves forces from Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, France and Japan, the service said in a statement at the start of the drill.
3. Vehicle traffic on the single bridge that links Russia to Moscow-annexed Crimea and serves as a key supply route for the Kremlin’s forces in the war with Ukraine came to a standstill Monday after one of its sections was blown up, killing a married couple and wounding their daughter. Rail traffic across the 19-kilometer (12-mile) Kerch Bridge also stopped but resumed after about six hours.
4. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Saturday, offering an apparent show of support for the country in its war with Russia. Yoon’s office said he traveled to Ukraine with his wife, Kim Keon Hee, following trips to Lithuania for a NATO summit and to Poland. It’s his first visit since Russia invaded Ukraine almost 17 months ago.
5. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry was holding talks Monday with his Chinese counterpart in Beijing, as the U.S. seeks to restore contacts that were disrupted by disputes over trade, Taiwan, human rights and China’s territorial claims. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Kerry was meeting with Xie Zhenhua for the first extensive face-to-face climate discussions between representatives of the world’s two worst climate polluters after a nearly yearlong hiatus.
Two Navy veterans who claim to have seen unidentified aerial phenomena, better known as UFOs, joined a Pentagon whistleblower Wednesday to warn Congress that the sightings threaten national security and are being kept secret.
Ryan Graves, a former Navy F-18 pilot, and David Fravor, a retired Navy commander, described their encounters with strange, flying objects at a crowded hearing before the House Oversight Committee, which is leading a push by lawmakers to destigmatize reporting on such incidents and increase government transparency about potential alien life.
“As we convene here, UAP are in our airspace, but they are grossly underreported. These sightings are not rare or isolated, they are routine,” Graves said. “Parts of our government are more aware about UAP than they let on, but excessive classification processes keep crucial information hidden.”
Graves said he first became aware of UAPs in 2014, after upgraded jet radar systems used by pilots stationed at Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., began detecting unknown objects. A pilot soon saw one in person, observing a floating “dark gray cube inside of a clear sphere” during a training mission about 10 miles off the Atlantic coast, Graves said.
There was no official acknowledgement of the incident, and it was never investigated, he said.
“If everyone could see the sensor and video data I witnessed, our national conversation would change,” Graves said. “If UAP are foreign drones, it is an urgent national security problem. If it is something else, it is an issue for science. In either case, unidentified objects are a concern for flight safety.”
The Pentagon last year established the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office to investigate reports of such phenomena, looking into more than 800 sightings. The U.S. government has attributed most of the reports to balloons, drones, birds, weather events and litter such as plastic bags, but many remain unexplained.
Graves estimates only about 5% of UAP sightings are being reported due to risk of professional repercussions. Most witnesses are commercial pilots for major airlines who have seen UAPs at 40,000 feet “making inexplicable maneuvers, like right-hand turns and retrograde orbits or j-hooks,” Graves said. The pilots are primarily seeing dark gray or black cubes inside of clear spheres, he said.
Fravor, a retired commanding officer of the Navy’s “Black Aces” strike fighter squadron, told lawmakers that he saw a white object shaped like a Tic Tac candy after launching his jet from the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier in 2004. He spotted the object “moving very abruptly” off the California coast before rapidly climbing up to about 12,000 feet in the air, then disappearing and reappearing 60 miles away less than a minute later.
“I never felt that we were alone with all the planets out there, but I wasn’t a UFO person,” Fravor said. “I think what we experienced [that day] was well beyond the material science and capabilities that we had at the time, that we have currently and or that we’re going to have in the next 10 to 20 years.”
David Grusch, a former intelligence officer with the Air Force, alleged under oath Wednesday that the U.S. government has for decades maintained a program that collected and attempted to reverse engineer crashed UFOs. He came forward as a whistleblower last year and said he has suffered “very brutal” retaliation for his decision and fears for his life.
He claimed “non-human biologics” have been found at the alleged crash sites and said he knows of “people who have been harmed or injured” because of government efforts to cover up information about the UFOs.
“I am hopeful that my actions will ultimately lead to a positive outcome of increased transparency,” Grusch said.
The Pentagon has denied the allegations. Sean Kirkpatrick, the director of the All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office, told senators in April that there is “no credible evidence thus far of extraterrestrial activity, off-world technology or objects that defy the known laws of physics.”
Congressional interest in the issue has nonetheless surged in recent years with a House panel last summer holding the first public hearing on UFOs in more than 50 years. Wednesday’s oversight hearing was called by lawmakers who said they were frustrated by the shroud of secrecy around reported sightings.
“This is an issue of government transparency,” said Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. “We’re not bringing little green men or flying saucers into the hearing — sorry to disappoint about half y’all — we’re just going to get to the facts.”
Burchett said the Defense Department, intelligence community and NASA, which is set to publish its report on UAPs in the summer, declined to participate in the hearing. Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., said lawmakers who recently traveled to an Air Force base in Florida to investigate reported UAP sightings by military pilots were stonewalled by the Pentagon.
“We are simply told not to question the government and that the government has it under control,” she said.
The Senate this week is expected to vote on an amendment to the annual defense policy bill that will force the government to disclose reported sightings and declassify records related to UAPs.
“For decades, many Americans have been fascinated by objects mysterious and unexplained,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “It’s long past time they get some answers.”
A direct number for veterans to call for New Initial Exam (NIE) 808-838-6522 This number will go live on Monday June 12 2023 and the hours of operation are 0800 – 1600 Mon – Fri
Also when the Veterans call the CBOC main line, here are the options. (The phone tree is the same for ALL CBOC)
Kauai – 808-246-0497
Maui – 808-871-2454
Hilo – 808-935-3781
Kona – 808-329-0774
Leeward – 808-312-6800
Windward – 808-234-2240
AMS – 684-699-3730
Guam – 671-475-5760
New Patient Appointment (New Initial Exam) – 808-838-6522
• Press 1 – Pharmacy
• Option 1 – Automated refills (Lines open 24 hours a day/7 day a week)
• Option 2 – Speak to a pharmacy representative (Lines open 0730-1600, Mon – Sat)
• Press 2 – Schedule/Cancel an appointment or relay a non-urgent message to a clinic
• Option 2 – Primary Care (Lines open 0730 – 1600 Mon – Fri)
• Option 3 – Specialty Care (Lines open 0800 – 1600, Mon – Fri)
• Option 4 – Mental Health (Lines open 0800 – 1600, Mon – Fri)
• Press 3 – Telephone Advise Nurse: if you are ill, injured or have a medical condition.
HON Telephone Advice Nurses are available to take the calls 0745 – 1600, Mon – Fri.
After 1600, Nights/Weekends/Holiday’s – Calls are routed to our San Francisco Triage Nurse (this line is 24/7)
• Press 4 – Health Care eligibility questions (Line open 0730-1600, Mon – Fri)
• Press 5 – VA Billing inquiries (Lines open 0800-2000 EST, Mon – Fri)
• Press 9 – Care in the Community (CITC)/Non-VA Care & Patient Advocate (Line open 0730-1600, Mon–Fri)
• Option 1 – CITC
Option 1 – To speak with a representative
Option 2 – CITC Patient Advocate
• Option 2 – Facility Patient Advocate
• Press 0 – Operator Assistance (Line open 0600-1600, Mon-Fri)
TIP: YOU MAY SELECT ANY OF THE OPTIONS AS SOON AS THE AUTOMATED MESSAGE BEGINS ANNOUNCING THE OPTION