Senators Shaheen, Hassan Cosponsor Bipartisan Bill to Improve Suicide Prevention Efforts at the Department of Defense

November 02, 2021

Bill Follows an Alarming Government Accountability Office Report Revealing a 15% Increase in Military Suicides in 2020 From the Year Before

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, cosponsored the bipartisan Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act to strengthen the Defense Department’s (DoD) suicide prevention efforts. The bill is led by Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mark Kelly (D-AZ).

“No one should ever suffer in silence and that is especially crucial when it comes to members of our military who often experience significant stress, anxiety or trauma while in service to our nation. It is past time that we treat the wounds we cannot see with the same urgency and seriousness as those visible to the eye, which is precisely what this legislation would help do,” said Senator Shaheen. “This bipartisan bill would require the Department of Defense to reform administrative processes and bolster efforts to improve suicide prevention. The suicide rates we’ve seen among our military, similar to the startling figures we’ve seen among law enforcement, are alarming and demand the full attention and weight of this Congress to help and save our service members who sacrifice so much for our country.”

“Our service members sacrifice every day to keep us safe, and we must give them the support that they need, especially when they face mental health challenges,” said Senator Hassan. “This bill will help the Department of Defense better address suicide risks by streamlining and simplifying bureaucratic procedures, and in turn help save lives. I am glad to join Senators Ernst and Kelly in this bipartisan effort, and I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this crucial piece of legislation.”

This past spring, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog agency, released the findings of a review of the Department of Defense’s suicide prevention programs. The report identified three areas that DoD should address to improve suicide prevention efforts. The S.O.S. Act directs DoD to implement those GAO recommendations, which include:

  • Assessing DoD’s individual non-clinical prevention efforts to determine their effectiveness.
  • Improving DoD’s data collection by reducing duplication and developing consistent suicide-related definitions to be used department-wide. This is in response to concerns that inconsistent definitions could be impeding the ability to access and improve prevention programs.
  • Strengthening collaboration between Pentagon offices, specifically between the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) and the Psychological Health Center of Excellence on the production of the annual suicide reports, to minimize duplication of efforts.

Earlier this year, a key bipartisan bill that Shaheen and Hassan helped introduce to support veterans was signed into law – the Deborah Sampson Act – which eliminates barriers to care and services that many women veterans face and would help ensure that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can address the needs of women veterans. Additionally, Shaheen and Hassan were cosponsors of the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law in 2019, and will create a permanent legislative fix to help ensure “Blue Water” Navy veterans get the disability and health care benefits they deserve as a result of exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services and Appropriations Committees, Senator Shaheen has worked tirelessly to advocate on behalf of Granite State service members and veterans. Senator Shaheen recently announced that the annual funding legislation recently released by the Senate Appropriations Committee included her language that would provide $22 million for the Beyond Yellow Ribbon (BYR) program, which funds the New Hampshire National Guard’s Care Coordination Program. BYR programs provide outreach services to troops returning from deployment, including mental health services. In 2018, Senator Shaheen worked to include a provision in the VA MISSION Act – which was signed into law – ensuring every veteran in New Hampshire has access to care in the community. This was a top priority for Shaheen as New Hampshire does not have a full-service VA medical facility. Under the previous VA community care program, Senator Shaheen introduced the Veterans Choice Card Prompt Payment Act to expedite payment to providers who serve veterans. The fiscal year 2021 defense bill that became law included an amendment supported by Shaheen that requires the VA to provide benefits for veterans suffering from diseases associated with exposure to Agent Orange. 

Senator Hassan is working across the aisle to help ensure that veterans, service members, and their families have the support that they need to thrive. The Senator recently introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Ernst help reduce the disparity in out-of-pocket costs for military uniforms for women service members, who often pay more for uniform items than their male counterparts. Furthermore, Senators Hassan and Marco Rubio (R-FL) led successful bipartisan efforts to push the Department of Education to ensure that more service members can utilize the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Additionally, President Biden recently signed into law a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator Hassan to automatically provide cost-of-living increases to Veterans Affairs benefits for certain veterans with disabilities and dependent survivors.