BIll would reduce veteran suicides

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Boozman (R-AR), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced the Suicide Prevention by Eliminating Excessive Digits Act of 2019 (SPEED Act). The SPEED Act requires the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) 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 (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1), to create an easier, more accessible way for Veterans to receive help. 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 (1-800-273-8255).   

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 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. 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. 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. As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to fight for our Veterans whenever possible,” said Senator Manchin.   

“When it comes to expanding veterans' access to mental health care and improving our suicide prevention efforts, we need to do better,” said 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.”   

"Despite the significant resources we have 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. 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,” said Senator Boozman.   

“Time is of the essence when it comes to connecting veterans in crisis with lifesaving support services. Our bill creates an easy to remember three-digit phone number to ensure veterans and their families are quickly connected with help in their time of need. By streamlining and simplifying access to care, we can make real progress in our fight to end the scourge of veteran suicide,” said Senator Blumenthal.   

“The unconscionable number of veterans ending their own lives each year is a travesty and an enduring shame for our country,” said Senator Sullivan. “In moments of crisis, time is of the essence. Having an expeditious and memorable means of support and understanding available to veterans when despair and the weight of trauma feel overwhelming will undoubtedly save lives.” 

  “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.” 

“We must do everything possible to save the 20 veterans who die by suicide every day. 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,” said Carlos Fuentes, VFW National Legislative Service Director  

“Tragedy Assistance Program For Survivors, (TAPS) supports the development of a three-digit dialing helpline.   We need to do all we can to help those who are in crisis and need care.   A three-digit helpline call-in number will be easier to remember and dial when needed.   We thank the Senators for their efforts,” said Kim Ruocco MSW, TAPS Vice President, Suicide Prevention and Postvention  

“Suicide has plagued the veteran community for far too long, and though many steps have been taken to address this issue, it’s clear that more must be done to save the lives of those at risk. DAV supports the bipartisan SPEED Act as a measure to expedite help for veterans in crisis; and we thank Senators Manchin, Tester, Boozman, Blumenthal, Sullivan and Cramer for their commitment to the welfare of the men and women who have served,” said Dennis Dixon, DAV National Commander.   

This bill is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 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.