WASHINGTON – Today, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) introduced H.R. 8125, the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan bill designed to utilize technology to reduce the suicide rate among military servicemembers. Congressmen Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16) and Gil Cisneros (CA-39) are also original cosponsors of the legislation, which was recently introduced in the Senate by Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) and Tom Cotton (AR).
“Preventing veteran and military suicides should be one of our nation’s top priorities,” said Joyce. “In 2018, 541 servicemembers across the military’s active and reserve components died by suicide. That is 541 too many. We have the responsibility to support our troops and ensure they have access to the assistance and mental health care they need. I’m proud to introduce this bill with Congressman Panetta to ensure we are utilizing every tool available to fulfill that responsibility and protect the men and women of our Armed Forces who sacrifice so much to defend us and our freedoms.”
“Tragically, service member suicide rates continue to plague our country,” said Congressman Panetta. “Utilizing technology to increase preventative resource availability and foster a culture of support is crucial. That’s why I’m proud to co-lead this timely legislation and work with my bipartisan colleagues to advance this measure.”
Tragically, U.S. military suicides have been steadily increasing since 2004 and a report released by the Department of Defense (DoD) last year showed the suicide rate among active duty military personnel has been increasing by an average of 6% a year since 2014. The Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act would address those statistics by requiring the DoD to utilize technology proven to help servicemembers cope with stress and easily access mental health resources. Specifically, the legislation would require the DoD to pre-download an application (app) called Virtual Hope Box and the National Suicide Hotlines onto servicemembers’ government-issued smartphones 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.
“Today, too many of our Servicemembers die by suicide,” said Robert Gebbia, Chief Executive Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “We must leverage our technological capabilities to make life-saving resources readily available, and the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act does just that. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention applauds Rep. Joyce and Rep. Panetta’s leadership in introducing this important legislation and we urge Congress to swiftly pass this bill into law.”
“We must go from raising awareness about suicide among our veterans and active-military servicemen and women to providing useful tools and strategies to reduce those suicides,”said Tony Coder, Executive Director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “The Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation is in full support of Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act and the resources that this legislation would provide. One year ago, I stood in line at a funeral for a 30-year old Navy veteran and his family’s words to me were, ‘We have to do something to stop this.’ This bill is a strong step to providing those much-needed resources for all our heroes and their families and I am grateful to Congressman Joyce, Congressman Panetta and the co-sponsors for introducing this much-needed piece of legislation.”
Created by the Defense Health Agency in 2014, the Virtual Hope Box is one of only a few empirically-tested smartphone tools designed to support individuals at risk for suicide. Users can set up the app with photos of friends and family, sound bites and videos of loved ones and special moments, music, relaxation exercises, games, helpline numbers, a contact list that users can reach out to for support, and reminders of reasons for living. The app supports a mix of pre-loaded and user-created content and can be customized according to the individual’s specific needs. Since it was released, the app has been downloaded 400,000 times, with significant positive feedback.
You can find bill text here and learn more about the Virtual Hop Box app here.