Plans for training vets in suicide prevention and a new triple-digit mental health hotline enacted
President Donald Trump on Saturday enacted a pair of bills designed to help prevent veteran suicide, including a move to establish a new three-digit national crisis line similar to 911 for mental health emergencies.
Both measures had received strong support from veterans groups in recent months and were passed by Congress without significant objection. In a statement Saturday night, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie hailed the measures as key improvements in efforts to better reach veterans in times of emotional or mental instability.
“People in distress and in need of timely care should face as few obstacles as possible to getting help,” he said. “The bill President Trump signed today will soon allow people at risk to be quickly connected to a trained responder and help save lives.”
The new suicide crisis helpline will designate 988 as the universal telephone number for national suicide prevention and mental health crisis services. While the call center isn’t exclusive to veterans, advocates have championed the idea in recent years as a way to make emergency mental health care more accessible to veterans.
About 20 veterans and military personnel kill themselves every day, according to the latest statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs. This figure has remained at about the same level over the past decade despite targeted efforts by the Department and Congress on outreach and new response services.
Under the provisions of the bill, the new crisis number 988 will be active by fall 2021. The VA Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Addiction at Health and Human Services will issue a report to the Congress next April on the progress of this work. and additional resources that may be required.
The other measure – Commander John Scott Hannon’s Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act – includes a new grant program to encourage collaboration with community organizations on suicide prevention, new rules for hiring to quickly fill gaps in mental health staffing at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and a new data requirements to better track potential causes of suicide.
The bill was sponsored by Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Jerry Moran, R-Kan., And rank member Jon Tester, D-Mont.
“This new law combines the best ideas of veterans, veterans service organizations, the VA and mental health care advocates to deliver innovative solutions that will help heal the invisible wounds of war through access. increased care, alternative therapies and local treatment options. The tester said in a statement.
The bill has met with some opposition in the House over concerns about community grants given to groups that do not have a proven record of clinical success in treating mental health.
But Wilkie and a number of veterans groups have been pushing hard for the measure in recent months, saying new approaches are needed to help stem the toll of veteran suicides.
“The innovative approaches they take in the Hannon Act are what is needed at this point in the veteran suicide crisis,” Jeremy Butler, CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with Congress and the administration to ensure this groundbreaking legislation is fully implemented.”
Other suicide prevention measures could still be enacted this year. As part of a deal to move the Hannon Law forward through the House, Senate lawmakers also agreed before the end of the year to try to speed up a set of nine equally related House bills. to the issue of veterans suicide.
This package – dubbed the COMPACT Act – includes a step taken by the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Mark Takano, D-Calif., To provide VA mental health care services to all veterans, regardless of their exit status.
It also includes several provisions for training and assistance for family members of ex-combatants (designed to create stronger support networks for ex-combatants at risk), a new mandate that VA officials are reaching out to. veterans every few years to make sure they are aware of the benefits and health. care options and new training for VA police.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, DC since 2004, focusing on policies relating to military personnel and veterans. His work has earned him numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk Award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism Award, and the VFW News Media Award.