Underwood, Blumenthal, Brownley, Mrvan, Levin, Pappas Introduce Legislation to Help Address the Veteran Suicide Crisis

April 21, 2021
Press Release
The Lethal Means Safety Training Act expands evidence-based trainings to help prevent veteran suicides

WASHINGTON— Today, Representative Lauren Underwood (IL-14), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Chairs Julie Brownley (CA-26), Frank Mrvan (IN-01), Mike Levin (CA-49), and Chris Pappas (NH-01) reintroduced legislation to address the veteran suicide crisis. The Lethal Means Safety Training Act would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to expand its evidence-based lethal means safety training to all VA employees regularly interacting with veterans, as well as community care providers and family caregivers.  Currently, clinical health care providers in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities are the only staff required to receive this training.

“The evidence is clear: supporting lethal means safety saves lives. That’s why I’m leading the Lethal Means Safety Training Act, which will ensure that all VA employees and community partners are equipped to help a veteran in crisis,” said Representative Underwood. “The Lethal Means Safety Act is an evidence-based approach that creates valuable time and space between a veteran at risk for suicide and a potentially lethal means, a critical step for saving veterans’ lives.”

“The Lethal Means Safety Act would give veterans in crisis the support they need when they need it most,” said Senator Blumenthal. “We are in the midst of a veterans suicide emergency: two-thirds of all veteran suicides involve a firearm. Trained health professionals can help build more time and space between a veteran at risk of suicide and lethal means like firearms. This bill would give more VA employees, community care providers, and caregivers these vital trainings to better address veterans’ mental health needs and prevent veterans from taking their own lives.”

“The epidemic of veteran suicide is tragic on its own – with so many lives lost and so many lives shattered – but it’s made even worse because studies show that so many suicides can be prevented. Oftentimes, making a connection with another person, like a nurse at a VA clinic or a counselor at a Vet Center, can make all the difference in saving a veteran's life. By expanding lethal means safety training to VA employees and other individuals who regularly interact with veterans can make a significant impact,” said Representative Brownley, Chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. “I applaud Congresswoman Underwood’s important work on this issue and look forward to continuing to work with her to save the lives of those who fought to protect ours.”

“Countless men and women serving in our military have returned to a country that hasn’t always lived up to its responsibility to care for its veterans and their mental health,”  said Chairman Levin. “That must change. The Lethal Means Safety Act equips VA staff, caregivers, and community providers with necessary tools and training to handle unique circumstances surrounding veterans’ mental health by creating a safe space between veterans at risk and lethal means, helping to prevent death by suicide.”

“I commend Rep. Underwood for her leadership to help protect veterans from suicide through the Lethal Means Safety Training Act.  I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to advocate for the VA’s adoption of lethal means training and other evidence-based options to combat the epidemic of veteran suicides in our country,” said Chairman Mrvan.

“When it comes to reducing veteran suicide, we know that putting time and distance between veterans in crisis and the most lethal means can dramatically lower the suicide death rate,” said Chairman Mark Takano, House Veterans Affairs Committee. “That’s why I strongly support Rep. Underwood’s legislation to expand VA’s already extensive lethal means safety training to include all employees and contractors who encounter veterans. By passing this critical legislation, we can save veterans’ lives.”

According to the most recent VA National Suicide Data Report, veterans who currently or recently used VHA services had higher rates of suicide than those who did not. This makes VA employees and contractors essential partners in promoting evidence-based suicide prevention practices, such as lethal means safety, which is one of the few population-level interventions that reduce suicide rates. VA’s training equips recipients for conversations with veterans about lethal means safety, helping them to create valuable time and space in the event of a crisis. According to VA researchers, “for a veteran in crisis, lethal means safety during a critical period can make all the difference.”

By updating and expanding VA’s current training, Underwood’s legislation would better prepare VA staff to serve the veteran population. The LethalMeans Safety Act also includes strong compliance and reporting requirements and requires VA to share its training resources with the general public for broader use.

A fact sheet on the bill can be found here.

The Lethal Means Safety Training Act is endorsed by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; American Association of Suicidology; American Foundation for Suicide Prevention; Association of VA Psychologist Leaders; Brady; Coalition to Stop Gun Violence; Everytown for Gun Safety; Giffords; Minority Veterans of America; Modern Military Association of America; New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center; Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA); The Elizabeth Dole Foundation; Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute; and Walk the Talk America.

"The VA is the national leader in training providers how to appropriately counsel voluntary lethal means storage options for individuals at risk for suicide. The bill prudently expands VA’s training to non-VA providers and others in frequent contact with veterans. In my opinion, this bill would do as much or more to prevent suicide than any legislation to date,” said Dr. Russell Lemle, VA-Community Care Workgroup Lead, Association of VA Psychologist Leaders.

“Our veteran community is in the midst of an unprecedented and devastating suicidality pandemic. Mental health disparities and rates of death-by-suicide are further increased within our minority veteran populations, who are historically underserved and marginalized,” said Lindsay Church, Minority Veterans of America’s Executive Director. “We have long called for comprehensive and informed policy initiatives to provide needed change and additional support. We are grateful to see that this piece of legislation will provide that direct impact and will further target a veteran’s full care team network. We applaud Chairman Takano and Representative Underwood and call on our nation’s legislators to quickly follow their lead in passing this life-saving Bill.”

“Evidence has long shown counseling on lethal means, namely firearms, to be greatly effective in reducing suicides,” said Colleen Creighton, CEO of the American Association of Suicidology. “Increasing the availability of this training and inserting it into settings where individuals are frequently around firearms will be critical in saving lives. Empowering caregivers and others surrounding veterans to have these lifesaving conversations is an important step in keeping our loved ones safe.”