PHOENIX – Arizona Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema hosted a Veterans Advisory Council roundtable Tuesday to delve into Arizona veteran suicide prevention and mental health initiatives. The senator also gave the in-attendance American Legion Arizona State Chairman a signed copy of the LEGION Act, a bipartisan bill spearheaded by Sinema that became a law earlier this year.
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee member Sinema takes veteran suicides very seriously. “Suicide among our veterans and servicemembers represents a national crisis. I’ll continue partnering directly with Arizona veterans to ensure our servicemembers and all who have served get the care and benefits they’ve earned,” Sinema said in a media statement Tuesday.
During Veteran Suicide Prevention Month in September, the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs disseminated updated reports revealing veteran suicide rates and showcasing the veteran and military population’s “suicide crisis,” according to Sinema’s office. A recent case in point involved a Sept. 23 incident where an 86-year-old veteran committed suicide by shooting himself while visiting the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona in Phoenix.
An earlier veteran suicide case that also caught Sinema’s attention was that of Sergeant Daniel Somers from Phoenix, a U.S. Army veteran diagnosed with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries after returning home from two Iraq tours. Somers took his own life in 2013, motivating Sinema to propose her bipartisan bill called the “Sergeant Daniel Somers Network of Support Act.” The initiative, dubbed “S. 1467,” was introduced in the Senate on May 14 but has not yet been signed into law. It would provide cooperative support among the DoD, military member’s loved ones and the American Red Cross, as indicated on congress.gov:
“This bill provides a means of disseminating information to personal contacts of Armed Forces members about the experiences and challenges of military service. Specifically, it requires the Department of Defense (DOD) to seek an agreement with the American Red Cross for the conduct of a pilot program to encourage new Armed Forces members to designate up to 15 persons with whom certain information regarding their military service would be shared. This includes information concerning aspects of daily life in the military and its challenges, particularly during and after deployment in a contingency operation; availability of services to help members and dependents to cope with experiences; and benefits provided by DOD.
“The bill provides privacy protections and mechanisms to modify the contact information or opt out of the program.”
Previously, Sinema worked to promote veterans’ benefits through the bipartisan LEGION Act she spearheaded earlier this year, signed into law July 30 and providing American Legion membership to all servicemembers and veterans, including those who didn’t serve in times of declared conflicts.