Sinema Introduces Bipartisan Bill to Reduce Suicide Risk Among Servicemembers

Sep 28, 2021

WASHINGTON – Arizona’s senior U.S. Senator Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Senator Rob Portman (Ohio) introduced the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act—bipartisan legislation that authorizes a pilot program utilizing innovative technology-resources to reduce the risk of suicide among servicemembers.
“Addressing the national crisis of suicide among military servicemembers requires using every tool available. The Virtual Hope Box represents an innovative technology to provide mental health care and support to Arizona’s troops,” said Sinema, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“Our servicemen and women deserve every tool possible to help them cope with any mental health challenges they might face,” said Senator Portman. “The Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act will establish a pilot program within the Department of Defense to determine if a scientifically vetted smart phone application will have a substantial positive impact on service members’ behavioral health. As suicide rates among service members continue to rise, I encourage my colleagues in Congress to act now in order to do what we can to help counteract this harmful trend.”
“The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) commends Senator Sinema and Senator Portman for leading legislation to reduce military suicide, said Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A., Senior Vice President for Public Policy, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “The Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, strongly supported by AFSP, would include crisis resources on Servicemember and Veteran smart devices, as an innovative means to facilitate access to free and confidential support, everyday 24/7, to the Veterans Crisis Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”
“By requiring the DOD to pre-download the Virtual Hope Box app and the National Suicide Hotlines onto servicemembers government issued smartphones, and also to use them during department-wide annual suicide prevention training, the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act would utilize proven technology to help servicemembers cope with stress and easily access mental health resources. Furthermore, in requiring the DoD to continue to work towards identifying other effective technology-based resources, your legislation would ensure that future tools are made available to address the enduring problem of military suicide,” said Dr. Saul M. Levin, CEO and Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association.

Sinema’s bipartisan bill authorizes a two-year pilot program utilizing the Virtual Hope Box application and other innovative technology-related resources to reduce the risk of suicide among servicemembers. This legislation is designed to reduce suicide among servicemembers by directing the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to download Virtual Hope Box onto DOD-issued servicemembers’ smart devices (including phones, computers, and tablets) and to use Virtual Hope Box during suicide-prevention training as part of a two-year pilot program.
In 2014, the Defense Health Agency created the Virtual Hope Box, an application proven to help users cope with unpleasant emotions and thoughts. The Virtual Hope Box also includes an easily accessible contact list that users can reach out to for support. This application was vetted by Department of Veteran Affairs researchers and is available for download by anyone with a smart device.
Sinema has long been a champion for Arizona veterans and servicemembers. Last Congress, Sinema passed into law her bipartisan Sgt. Daniel Somers Network of Support Act, which was named after Sgt. Daniel Somers—an Arizona Army veteran who lost his life to suicide. Sinema’s bipartisan law requires the Department of Defense to work with the American Red Cross to collect from new servicemembers the names of loved ones they consider to be their networks of support. The Department of Defense will provide those individuals with information about benefits and services available to military members.