Tester, Sullivan Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill Heads to President’s Desk

Bipartisan, bicameral Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act provides necessary tools and resources to VA Suicide Prevention Coordinators

U.S. Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) are today celebrating the unanimous passage of the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act a bipartisan, bicameral effort to help tackle one of the nation’s most pressing health concerns— veteran suicide. The Senators’ legislation requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the responsibilities, workload, training, and vacancy rates of Suicide Prevention Coordinators at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Tester and Sullivan took to the Senate floor today urging colleagues from both sides of the aisle to support the bill.

Suicide Prevention Coordinators are specially trained employees at VA medical centers who identify, and connect, high-risk veterans with the care that they need. Across the nation, these VA professionals conduct outreach, promote awareness, and disseminate suicide prevention best practices. Due to the growing number of veterans seeking care, many Suicide Prevention Coordinators report being overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities. The Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act will provide necessary information that will help ensure VA has the tools and resources they need to provide veterans with critical mental health resources.

“Far too many of our country’s heroes return home from service suffering from invisible wounds of war,” said Senator Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “VA employees and suicide prevention professionals are our nation’s first line of defense when it comes to combatting veteran suicide. Our bill ensures a comprehensive approach to help connect veterans with the urgent, life-saving care they need, by identifying and addressing staffing needs for these vital frontline employees. I urge the President to sign this bill quickly into law, ensuring no veteran slips through the cracks.”

“It is a tragedy for our country that so many brave veterans, who sacrifice on behalf of all of us, feel as though they have no one to turn to when dealing with the unseen wounds of war,” said Senator Sullivan, member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “In order to stem the crisis of veteran suicide, it’s important that the people who help them are given the support they need. The VA must have the skilled professionals available who are trained to recognize the warning signs of a veteran in crisis and able to connect a veteran with the numerous resources available to them before it is too late. Our legislation will compel the completion of a comprehensive look at how suicide prevention coordinators are serving the needs of veterans, and which additional resources they need in order to support veterans and defeat the ongoing crisis of veteran suicide.”

Earlier this year, Tester helped introduce the bipartisan Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserve. Currently, members of the National Guard and Reserves undergo annual health assessments to identify medical issues that could impact their ability to deploy, but any follow-up care is often pursued at their own expense. The bipartisan CARE for Reservists Act will authorize the Department of Defense to improve Guardsmen and Reservists’ access to consistent mental health, regardless of their deployment status.

Doubling down on his efforts to address the veteran suicide epidemic, Tester is also continuing to push the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which takes a comprehensive approach to address mental health care and prevent suicide by ensuring veterans can utilize alternative therapies including yoga, acupuncture, animal therapy, and outdoor sports and recreation therapy.

Watch Senator Sullivan’s floor speech HERE.