Following an alarming report revealing a 15% increase in military suicides in 2020 from the year before, U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa)—a combat veteran and longtime champion of servicemember mental health—and Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) are pushing the Pentagon to take immediate action to step up suicide prevention efforts with their Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act.
“Our servicemembers carry out selfless duties every day to protect our nation and oftentimes they face serious and unique challenges. We cannot fail them,” said Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran. “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 Sen. Kelly, combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The senators, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, are putting forward the S.O.S. Act, which directs the Pentagon to evaluate the effectiveness of their suicide prevention efforts and to improve its data collection, reduce bureaucratic duplication, and strengthen collaboration between its offices.
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 has the support of over 30 senators—Democrats and Republicans—and is supported by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the American Legion.