October 21, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) have joined a bipartisan group of their Senate colleagues to introduce the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act, which would work to improve Department of Defense suicide prevention efforts. The legislation – which comes shortly after an alarming report revealed a 15% increase in military suicides in 2020 – would direct the Pentagon to evaluate the effectiveness of their suicide prevention efforts, improve its data collection, reduce bureaucratic duplication, and strengthen collaboration between its offices.
“America’s servicemembers have made extraordinary sacrifices for our nation – they embraced the call to serve and put their lives on the line to protect our country. Now, we have an obligation to serve these men and women with the same dedication that they served us,” said Senator Collins and King. “With military suicides rising at an alarming pace in 2020, too many in our armed forces are fighting yet another battle – and this time, they need our help. We need to do everything in our power to address this worsening crisis, and that starts with improving the Department of Defense’s prevention efforts. The Save Our Servicemembers Act is important, bipartisan legislation that will help ensure that our heroes can access the mental health resources they deserve and that no servicemember is left without the support we owe them.”
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. 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.
The S.O.S. Act is cosponsored by a bipartisan group of over 30 senators, and is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion.
As a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Collins has consistently supported robust funding for mental health services in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The fiscal year 2022 Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill, which advanced out of the Appropriations Committee in August, included $13.2 billion for mental health, including $2.3 billion for suicide prevention and $256 million for the Veterans Crisis Line.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King has worked to prevent servicemember and veteran suicide, and suicide nationwide. Last year, the Senate unanimously passed legislation cosponsored by Senator King that will designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line. Senator King has also joined Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to introduce the Effective Suicide Screening and Assessment in the Emergency Department Act, bipartisan legislation aimed at empowering emergency room personnel at health facilities to proactively identify, assess, and treat individuals at risk of suicide.