Last week, more than 30 members of the U.S. Senate, including Florida’s two senators, backed U.S. Sens. Joni Ernst’s, R-Iowa, and Mark Kelly’s, D-Ariz., proposal “that would require the U.S. Department of Defense to take immediate action to step up suicide prevention efforts for uniformed service members.”
Pointing to reports that showed a 15 percent increase in military suicides last year, Ernst introduced the “Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act.”
“Our service members carry out selfless duties every day to protect our nation and oftentimes they face serious and unique challenges. We cannot fail them,” said Ernst when she unveiled the bill last week. “We need to put out the S.O.S. and get to the root of this alarming and disturbing trend. That starts with this straightforward, bipartisan measure directing the Pentagon to streamline their prevention efforts and to clean up collaboration within its own offices. These are simple steps that will save lives.”
“Military suicides are rising, and we have to confront this issue head-on. The Save Our Servicemembers Act takes important steps to prevent military suicides and would help ensure that servicemembers—our heroes in uniform—can access the support and mental health care they need,” said Kelly.
“This past spring, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan watchdog agency, released the findings of a review of the Department of Defense’s (DOD) suicide prevention programs. The report identified three areas that DOD should address to improve suicide prevention efforts,” Ernst’s office noted. “The S.O.S. Act directs DOD to implement those GAO recommendations, which include: assessing DOD’s individual non-clinical prevention efforts to determine their effectiveness; improving DOD’s data collection by reducing duplication and developing consistent suicide-related definitions to be used department-wide. This is in response to concerns that inconsistent definitions could be impeding the ability to access and improve prevention programs; strengthening collaboration between Pentagon offices, specifically between the Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) and the Psychological Health Center of Excellence on the production of the annual suicide reports, to minimize duplication of efforts.”
Florida Republican U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott quickly backed the bill as co-sponsors.
“Our men and women in uniform dedicate their lives in service to our nation, and we should ensure that they have the best support available when they need it the most,” Rubio said. “I am proud to join Senators Ernst and Kelly in sounding the alarm on the rising number of military suicides. We can, and we must, do better for our service members.”
The bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. House.
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