New Legislation Will Make It Easier For Veterans In Crisis To Get Help

July 2, 2019 by Sean Trambley

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 20 veterans and military members die by suicide every day across the United States, and suicide rates are nearly two times higher for veterans than for non-veteran adults. 

These tragic statistics have spurred a bipartisan coalition in the Senate to take action and introduce new legislation that will provide immediate help to veterans in crisis.

This week, U.S. Senators Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., Jon Tester, D-Mont., John Boozman, R-Ark., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., introduced the Suicide Prevention by Eliminating Excessive Digits Act of 2019 (SPEED Act), requiring the Federal Communication Commission to designate a 3-digit dialing code for Veterans in crisis. 

This three digit number will designate a three digit dialing code, like 911, for the current Veterans Crisis Line number to create an easier, more accessible way for Veterans to receive help. 

Currently, veterans seeking help must dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, a long number and menu system that is not easily remembered. In effect, this bill could simultaneously help create a three-digit dialing code for all Americans in crisis, not only Veterans, since the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is the same toll-free number.

As a 24/7 operation, the Veterans Crisis Line, which was created in 2007, has answered over 3.5 million calls.

“In the past 20 years, suicide deaths have increased by 37 percent in West Virginia, which is unacceptable,” Senator Manchin said. “Suicide is preventable. That’s why I’m introducing the SPEED Act, which help our Veterans receive the help and support they need quickly.

“With a three-digit dialing code, we can lower that terrible statistic in West Virginia and across the nation and help our Veterans in need,” Manchin said. “As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to fight for our Veterans whenever possible.” 

“When it comes to expanding veterans’ access to mental health care and improving our suicide prevention efforts, we need to do better,” said Senator Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “By creating a more direct and effective line of communication for veterans in crisis, help can be on the way faster. This is a necessary step that breaks down needless barriers, ultimately saving veteran lives.”

For Senator Boozman, the tragedy is compounded by the fact despite the significant resources the federal government has allocated toward suicide prevention efforts, the number of veterans who take their own lives everyday remains unchanged. 

“More work must be done to find ways to reach veterans in need,” Boozman said. “Establishing a three-digit number that is easy for veterans to remember, and quick to access in a crisis, is one simple way we can save more lives. We simply have to do everything in our power to move the needle in the right direction.”

“Just like we all use 9-1-1, this bill designates a covered dialing code that exclusively veterans may use to reach a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system,” said Senator Cramer. These men and women offered to give us their all for our freedom. Transitioning back to civilian life can be difficult, stressful, and sometimes traumatic; and we need to do everything we can to offer them support and assist their transition into civilian life.”

Among those supporting the Senators’ effort is Carlos Fuentes, national legislative service director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“We must do everything possible to save the 20 veterans who die by suicide every day,” Fuentes said. “The VFW is proud to support the Suicide Prevention by Eliminating Excessive Digits Act of 2019, which would make it easier for veterans facing a mental health crisis to receive the care and service they have earned and deserve.” 

This bill is also supported by The American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

 If you are a Veteran in crisis – or you are concerned about one – free, confidential support is available 24/7. Call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1, or send a text message to 838255.

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