IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES
February 1, 2007
Mr. Harkin (for himself, Mr. Grassley, Mr. Rockefeller, Ms. Snowe, Mr. Durbin, Mr. Smith, Mr. Lautenberg, Mr. Thune, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Brownback, and Mr. Schumer) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs
To reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.
This Act may be cited as
Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide
Sense of Congress
It is the sense of Congress that—
suicide among veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a serious problem; and
the Secretary of Veterans Affairs should take into consideration the special needs of veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder in developing and implementing the comprehensive program required by section 3(a).
Comprehensive program for suicide prevention among veterans
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall develop and implement a comprehensive program for reducing the incidence of suicide among veterans.
De-stigmatizing mental health
The program required by subsection (a) shall include a national mental health campaign to increase awareness in the veteran community that mental health is essential to overall health and that very effective modern treatments can promote recovery from mental illness. The campaign may include the following:
Activities targeted at veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and the families of such veterans.
Monthly messages on the Internet website of the Department of Veterans Affairs that express the theme that mental health is essential to overall health.
Inclusion of the theme described in subparagraph (B) in public addresses, speeches, and veterans service organization convention addresses by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and other senior officials of the Department.
Training of employees and other personnel
The program shall provide for mandatory training on suicide and suicide prevention for appropriate employees and contractor personnel (including all medical personnel) of the Department of Veterans Affairs who interact with veterans. Such training shall include information pertinent to the job of such employees and personnel, including information on the following:
Recognition of risk factors for suicide.
Protocols for responding to crisis situations involving veterans who may be at high risk for suicide.
Best practices for suicide prevention.
Family education and outreach
The program shall include programs of outreach to, and education for, veterans and families of veterans (including, in particular, veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom and the families of such veterans) in order to assist the family members of veterans in—
eliminating or overcoming stigmas associated with mental illness;
understanding issues that arise in the readjustment of veterans to civilian life;
identifying signs and symptoms of mental health problems; and
encouraging veterans to seek assistance for such problems.
Peer support program
The program shall provide support for the development of a program to enable veterans to serve as peer counselors to—
assist other veterans with mental health issues; and
conduct outreach to veterans and families of veterans on mental health matters.
The program supported by subparagraph (A) shall include appropriate training for peer counselors under the program, including training in the identification of risk factors for suicide.
Peer support counseling as supplemental service
The program supported by subparagraph (A) shall be offered in addition to other mental health services already offered by the Department and services created pursuant to this Act.
Health assessments of veterans
The program shall encourage all veterans, when they apply for benefits provided by the Department, to undergo a mental health assessment at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility (including a center established under section 1712A of title 38, United States Code).
Counseling and treatment of veterans
The program shall provide for referrals to appropriate counseling and treatment programs for veterans who show signs or symptoms of mental health problems.
Suicide prevention counselors
The program shall provide for the designation of a suicide prevention counselor at each Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility other than centers established under section 1712A of title 38, United States Code. Each counselor shall work with local emergency rooms, law enforcement agencies, local mental health organizations, and veterans service organizations to engage in outreach to veterans to inform them of mental health services that are available to them and to improve the coordination of mental health care to veterans at the local level.
Research on best practices
The program shall provide for research on best practices for suicide prevention among veterans.
The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall develop a steering committee to advise the Secretary of Veterans Affairs on the research described in subparagraph (A). Such steering committee shall be comprised of representatives from the following:
National Institute of Mental Health.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Substance abuse treatment
The program shall provide for referrals to appropriate counseling and treatment programs of veterans who show signs or symptoms of substance abuse.
24-hour mental health care
The program shall include mechanisms to ensure the availability of services for mental health care for veterans on a 24-hour basis.
The program may include a toll-free telephone number
(commonly referred to as an
800 number) through which veterans
may obtain information on and referrals to appropriate mental health services.
The telephone number shall be serviced by personnel with appropriate mental
health training, and shall be operational at all times.
The program may provide for such other activities and programs to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs considers appropriate.
Report to Congress on suicide prevention programs and activities
Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to Congress a report on the programs and activities of the Department of Veterans Affairs to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.
The report shall include the following:
A description of the status of the implementation of the program required by section 3(a).
A description of the scheduled implementation of the program during the two-year period beginning on the date of the enactment of this Act, including the costs of implementation of the program over that period.
A plan for additional programs and activities to reduce the incidence of suicide among veterans.
Such recommendations for additional legislative or administrative action as the Secretary considers appropriate to improve and enhance the suicide prevention programs and activities of the Department.
In developing the plan required by subsection (b)(3), the Secretary shall consult with the following:
The National Institute of Mental Health.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.