Levin, Stivers Introduce Legislation to Address Veteran Suicide

August 25, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Representatives Andy Levin (D-MI) and Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced legislation that will help successfully expand a promising mental health program developed by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The VA Emergency Department Safety Planning Act aims to cut veteran suicides significantly by ensuring that emergency room personnel are effectively implementing safety plans and follow-ups for veterans deemed to be at risk of suicide and address disparities in suicide prevention programs.

Building on a 2018 program under the Veterans Health Administration, this bill requires detailed reporting on the Safety Planning in Emergency Departments (SPED) program, specifically to indicate areas for improvement within the VA or potential legislative changes needed to improve program performance.

“While our troops face grave dangers in combat overseas, there is a silent killer in our midst threatening veterans: suicide,” said Rep. Levin.Nearly one third of veterans returning home report a significant mental health disorder. One in five struggles with PTSD or depression, mental health issues commonly linked to suicide. When the horrors of war follow our veterans home, our government needs to be ready with state-of-the-art treatment and care. Our duty, as members of Congress, is to guarantee providers have the resources they need to offer the best care possible, identify barriers to care, and enact changes swiftly to tackle any issues that stand in the way of high-quality care for our veterans. This is what the VA Emergency Department Safety Planning Act will help us do. It builds on the promising suicide prevention program for veterans presenting at VA emergency departments as at risk for suicide who are safe enough to be discharged home, and ensures the program can be expanded successfully and serve all veteran populations—including women and people of color—effectively. I’m glad to partner with Representative Stivers on this needed step to take better care of the brave souls who have served our country.”

“Simple interventions can save lives. As a Brigadier General in the Ohio Army National Guard, I understand the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and we owe it to them to take explore every possibility that could curb the suicide epidemic facing our veterans,” Rep. Stivers said. “Something as simple as a follow-up after emergency treatment is a no-brainer. I’m grateful to both the VA for implementing this program, and to Representative Levin for making sure it works as best as it can.”

Under the SPED program, clinicians and other relevant personnel create a safety plan for veterans at risk for self-harm or suicide and follow up with them after they are discharged from the emergency department in order to facilitate outpatient mental health care.

According to a 2018 study in JAMA Psychiatry, this type of intervention conducted by emergency room staff reduces the odds of suicidal behavior by half. The U.S. loses approximately 17 veterans per day to suicide, based on the latest data available from the VA.

The VA Emergency Department Safety Planning Act is supported by the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs, the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans.

To read the full bill, click here.