Underwood Introduces New Legislation to Address the Veteran Suicide Crisis
WASHINGTON— Today, Rep. Lauren Underwood (IL-14) continued her work to address the veteran suicide crisis with new legislation to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide lethal means training to VA staff and contractors who regularly interact with veterans. The Lethal Means Safety Act (H.R. 8084) would direct VA to expand its evidence-based lethal means safety training– including not only to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees, but also those in the Veterans Benefits Administration, Vet Centers and vocational rehab facilities, compensation and pension examiners, community care network providers, and caregivers. Currently, clinicians and primary caregivers are the only staff required to receive this training. Chairwoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) and Rep. Kathleen Rice (NY-04) are original cosponsors of the legislation.
“Veterans have sacrificed so much for us, so it’s essential that when they return home, they receive the best possible health care. That includes equipping VA employees and community partners with the resources and training they need to address the unique challenges veterans face with mental health and to help prevent death by suicide,” said Underwood. “The Lethal Means Safety Act is an evidence-based approach that creates valuable time and space between a veteran at risk and a potentially lethal means.”
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 equip VA staff to serve the veteran population. VA officials have expressed support for expanding this training under questioning from Underwood before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. The Lethal Means Safety Act also includes strong compliance and reporting requirements and requires VA to share its training resources with the general public for broader use.
“Mental health experts, the Department of Defense, and the White House’s PREVENTS Task Force have been clear: we need lethal means safety conversations with every veteran. That’s why I strongly support Rep. Underwood’s new legislation that directs VA to expand their lethal means safety training to all employees and contractors that encounter veterans. By passing this critical legislation, we could help dramatically lower the suicide death rate. Any comprehensive suicide prevention bill package that comes out of this Committee must include expanded lethal means training,” said Chairman Mark Takano, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
The Lethal Means Safety Training Act is endorsed by Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Association of VA Psychologist Leaders, Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs, The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, The American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Association of Suicidology, and Walk the Talk America.
“As we continue to battle against veteran suicide, VA must use all the tools and resources at its disposal to mitigate risk and assist those in crisis. DAV is pleased to support the VA Lethal Means Safety Training Act, which would create multiple touchpoints throughout the Department of Veterans Affairs, helping to ensure that all those who work directly with veterans are prepared to have these important, potentially life-saving conversations about safe storage and suicide prevention. We thank Representative Underwood for her attention to this critical issue for veterans, and for working to expand efforts to prevent any further loss of life among our nation’s heroes,” said Joy Ilem, National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans.
“The bill directly adheres to the recent White House’s PREVENTS Task Force recommendations to require or incentivize comprehensive suicide prevention trainings across professions including efforts to reduce access to lethal means for Veterans with elevated suicide risk. 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.
“As a third-generation firearms industry professional and developer of a cultural competence course for mental health professionals called “At the Intersection of Mental Health and Firearms,” I have seen the power of education and outreach, and fully endorse the principle of this bill. There is evidence that cultural competence courses for mental health professionals positively effect how they view and engage those inside the Second Amendment community,” said Michael Sodini, President, Walk the Talk America.
As a member of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, and the Women Veterans Task Force, Underwood has worked to improve veterans’ access to quality care and has worked to help ensure veterans receive the care they have earned. In May 2019, Underwood’s bipartisan legislation to ensure high-quality mental health and suicide prevention care for veterans passed the US House of Representatives unanimously. The Veterans’ Care Quality Transparency Act helps ensure both the VA and outside providers are offering veterans high-quality mental health and suicide prevention services. In September, Underwood introduced the ACE Veterans Act and the Post-9/11 Veteran Suicide Prevention Counseling Act to improve access to quality care for veterans.