Congressman Max Rose, who led efforts in the House of Representatives to designate 9-8-8 as the universal telephone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, issued the following statement today on President Trump signing into law the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020 and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019 over the weekend.
"Even before the coronavirus hit, our nation's heroes were facing incredible challenges when it came to getting the mental health support they need," said Rose, an Army combat veteran. "Now, like all Americans, they're seeing those challenges compounded by months of isolation and stress from this pandemic. So it has never been more important for us to double down on our efforts to support mental health. I was proud to help get these bills across the finish line and appreciate President Trump for signing these bipartisan, commonsense bills into law. By no means is our work over, but this will go a long way in helping veterans, and all Americans, get the help they need when they need it."
The bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed by President Trump this past weekend and of which Rose is an original cosponsor, addresses the current patchwork of government agencies and nonprofits providing suicide prevention services, each with its own phone number. The law designates the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) recommended number of 9-8-8 as the dialing code for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and gives the FCC one year to complete the necessary upgrades to its system to support 9-8-8. It also empowers states to support local crisis call centers affiliated with the 9-8-8 network.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, also signed by the President this past weekend, passed the House of Representatives last month with Rose's support. The law increases the options for mental health care veterans can access at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), contains measures to increase the VA workforce, and creates meaningful reporting requirements to increase transparency at VA in addressing veteran suicide. In addition, this bill mandates that a Suicide Prevention Coordinator be placed in every VA hospital, in addition to requiring a staffing improvement plan for mental health providers. Notably, the law also requires that the Department of Defense (DoD) and VA must jointly review and report on the records of each former member of the Armed Forces who died by suicide within one year of separation from the Armed Forces, an issue on which Representative Rose has repeatedly advocated for increased data sharing.
Earlier this month, Rose introduced the VA/DoD Deployment Interoperability Act, aimed at addressing the epidemic of veteran suicide by requiring DoD and VA share information, in accordance with privacy regulations, regarding the rates of deployment for servicemembers and the frequency of service in combat operations in an effort to identify risk of suicide. A study by the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences found that servicemembers who served 12 or fewer months before their first deployment were twice as likely to attempt suicide compared to those who had more time training before their first deployment. In addition, Duke University Medical Center study results indicated that combat exposure was indirectly related to suicidal behavior.
In his efforts to address veteran suicide, Rose has continually pressed this issue with VA leadership. Earlier this year, Rose sent a letter to Secretary Wilkie urging him to include guidance on this data sharing in the President's Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) report. Last February, Rose joined Secretary Wilkie at the White House to discuss the effects of increased data sharing on clinical outcomes for our veterans, and continued that discussion later in the year.
Rose has made fighting for veterans and expanding access to health care and transportation services a top priority. With the support of the VA, the House of Representatives passed Rose's FIGHT Veterans Suicide Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at stemming the public health crisis of veteran suicides on VA campuses.