Joyce Aims to Improve Suicide Prevention Services in U.S. Military

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) announced that he has reintroduced legislation to prevent military suicides, the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, alongside Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20). This bipartisan, bicameral bill aims to utilize technology to reduce the suicide rate among military servicemembers. Senators Rob Portman (OH) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) have introduced the legislation in the Senate.

Tragically, the suicide rate among active duty servicemembers in the U.S. military increased by 9% over the past year, according to the Department of Defense (DoD) annual suicide report. Over the years, these reports show that the suicide rate among U.S. servicemembers has increased by 41.4% since 2015.

“Last year, 580 servicemembers died by suicide across the military’s active, reserve and National Guard components,” said Congressman Joyce. “That’s 580 too many. More must be done to support our troops and ensure they have access to the assistance and mental health care they need. I’m proud to once again introduce this legislation with Congressman Panetta and will continue to work across the aisle to ensure the U.S. military is utilizing every tool available to prevent suicide among our servicemembers and eliminate the stigma surrounding seeking help within our military community. We owe this and so much more to the brave men and women who defend our nation and our freedoms.”

“Our men and women in the armed services should have every opportunity to access mental health and suicide prevention services,” said Rep. Panetta.  “This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would provide that accessibility by leveraging existing training and support technology that would be available on a service member’s smart phone.  By integrating this innovative tool into everyday technology, this legislation would improve access to some essential services for those who serve our nation.”

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) commends Congressman Joyce and Congressman Panetta, for leading legislation to reduce military suicide,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Senior Vice President for Public Policy, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, strongly supported by AFSP, would include crisis resources on Servicemember and Veteran smart devices, as an innovative means to facilitate access to free and confidential support, every day 24/7, to the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”

“The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation is grateful to Congressman Joyce on his re-introduction of the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act,” said Tony Coder, Executive Director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “As our country loses over 20 veterans every day to suicide, this piece of common-sense legislation will help connect our heroes in the Armed Forces to resources that can literally be lifesaving.  We are in full support of Congressman Joyce’s efforts to reduce veteran suicide and are proud to stand with him to promote suicide prevention to our men and women in the military.”

H.R. 5352 aims to reduce the suicide rate among U.S. servicemembers by requiring the DoD to utilize technology proven to help individuals cope with stress and easily access mental health resources. Specifically, the legislation would require the DoD to pre-download an application called Virtual Hope Box and the National Suicide Hotline onto servicemembers’ government-issued smart devices (including phones, computers, and tablets) and use them during department-wide annual suicide prevention training. Importantly, this bill would also require the DoD to identify innovative solutions to the enduring problem of military suicide.

In 2014, the Defense Health Agency created the Virtual Hope Box, an application proven to help users cope with unpleasant emotions and thoughts. The Virtual Hope Box also includes an easily accessible contact list that users can reach out to for support. This application was vetted by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) researchers and is available for download by anyone with a smart device.

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