During National Suicide Prevention Week, Rosen and Cramer Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Address Veterans’ Mental Health Needs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), announced the introduction of their VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act (S. 4545), a bipartisan bill that would build upon the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) strong suicide prevention efforts by implementing a Zero Suicide Initiative pilot program at five VA medical centers across the nation, one of which must serve primarily veterans who live in rural and remote areas. Congresswoman Susie Lee (D-NV) and Congressman Jack Bergman (R-MI) introduced identical companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this year.

“As a nation, we have an obligation to address the mental health challenges facing our veterans. That is why I am proud to introduce this important bipartisan legislation to provide our veterans, including those living in rural areas, with critical mental health care resources,” said Senator Rosen. “It is my honor to serve Nevada’s more than 225,000 veterans and I will continue working in Congress to give those who defend our country the support and resources they deserve.”

“On average, we lose 17 veterans a day to suicide. We need to find ways to lower that number and get these patriots the help they need,” said Senator Cramer. “Our bill creates a pilot program aimed at lowering suicide risk for VA patients and allows the VA Department to properly analyze its suicide prevention programs to better understand how to provide our veterans with mental health assistance.”

“The VFW supports this legislation, which would require VA to implement the Zero Suicide Initiative program,” said Matthew Doyle, Deputy Director of Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Suicide prevention has long been a priority for the VFW. Through collaboration with our friends in Congress and at VA, it is our goal to reduce veteran suicide down to zero.”  

BACKGROUND: The Zero Suicide model aims to eliminate suicide through improvements in our health care systems. A central tenet of the approach is an understanding that health care systems are particularly critical venues for suicide prevention because suicide patients often receive services in the period leading up to their attempt or death, which provides an opportunity for identification and connection to treatment. Coupled with the belief that suicide prevention must also be seen as a core responsibility of health care, the Zero Suicide framework is defined by a system wide commitment to safer and concurrent suicide care in health and behavioral health care systems.

Unfortunately, suicide patients often “fall through the cracks,” due in part to the fragmented American health care system. In 2019, the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report found that on average seventeen veterans die by suicide each day. The report also found that of those seventeen veterans, an average of six veterans sought care from the VA prior to their suicide.

The Zero Suicide model provides resources for administrators and medical providers to create a systematic approach to concurrent suicide prevention in health care systems by implementing a seven element approach — Lead, Train, Identify, Encourage, Treat, Transition, and Improve – to develop more comprehensive patient safety and to prevent instances where a patient sought care at a health care system but was not connected with the appropriate services.  

The Zero Suicide model has seen enormous success, with some health care systems experiencing a 75 percent reduction rate in suicide among patients in the health care system, while generally the nation faced an increased rate of suicide. The Zero Suicide model is endorsed by numerous organizations, including the Joint Commission and the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2012 National Strategy for suicide prevention, and recently the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funded implementation of the Zero Suicide model by numerous states, tribes, and health care systems across the country.

The bipartisan VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act will build upon the strong suicide prevention efforts by the VA and bring the Zero Suicide model of care to our veterans and help foster a cultural shift toward comprehensive suicide treatment where zero veterans “fall through the cracks.”

This bipartisan legislation is endorsed by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA), and the American Legion.