Joyce, Panetta Re-Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Prevent Military Suicides

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, Congressman Dave Joyce (OH-14) and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (CA-20) introduced the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan bill designed to utilize technology to reduce the suicide rate among military servicemembers by requiring that a mental health application is downloaded on all government-issued phones provided to servicemembers. 

“We lose 17 veterans to suicide every day in America. That is 17 too many,” said Congressman Joyce. “As Americans, it is our responsibility to support the men and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms. I am proud to introduce this bill alongside Congressman Panetta to ensure our servicemembers have access to the assistance and mental health care they need.”

“With the rise of suicide rates all across the military, we must do more to provide increased mental and behavioral health services to our servicemembers,” said Rep. Panetta. “Our bipartisan legislation to pre-install mental health resources onto Department of Defense administered cellphones is a meaningful step toward ensuring our military personnel have access to 24/7 care at their fingertips.  No one, especially those who bravely serve our nation in uniform, should have to wait to receive lifesaving care or support.”    

“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention thanks Rep. Joyce and Rep. Panetta for introducing this bipartisan legislation,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “This bill will help ensure that service members have access to mental health and suicide prevention resources on all issued smart devices, helping to promote wellbeing among all members of the U.S. Armed Forces.”

Tragically, U.S. military suicides have been steadily increasing since 2004, and a report released by the Department of Defense (DoD) recently 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 help address these rising suicide rate 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. Importantly, this bill would also require the DoD to identify innovative solutions to the enduring problem of military suicide.

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. 

You can find bill text here and learn more about the Virtual Hop Box app here.  

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