Ernst introduces bill to extend National Guard and Reserve suicide prevention program

Hoping to combat the number of deaths by suicide in the military, the Suicide Prevention and Resilience Program for the National Guard and Reserves would be extended for one year under legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Thursday.

The bill would direct the secretary of defense to provide training to members on how to identify suicide warning signs, to research the influence military culture has on suicide and to use interactive case scenarios to hone intervention strategies. The current program is scheduled to lapse in October.

“One life lost to suicide is too many; we must do whatever we can to help those who sacrificed so much for our freedoms and are suffering from invisible wounds,” Ernst said. “The suicide prevention, outreach and community response training program for our National Guard and Reserve members and their families plays a critical role in providing folks with the tools they need. In order to combat suicide among servicemembers and our veterans, we must keep education and prevention training a priority.”

The bill also calls on the secretary of defense to provide families of National Guard and Reserve members with suicide prevention training and to take steps to foster collaboration among community programs on suicide prevention.

Suicide continues to be regarded as a major public health issue in the military. In 2016, 203 National Guard and Reserve members committed suicide, according to the latest Department of Defense suicide report.

Ret. Brig. Gen. Roy Robinson, the president of the National Guard Association of the United States, said the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserve cannot be accepted “as some sort of new normal.” He praised the bill introduced by Ernst and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

“National Guardsmen and Reservists have some unique challenges when it comes to accessing behavioral help,” Robinson said. “They don’t live in a base environment surrounded by support networks and readily available treatment like their active-component counterparts. This legislation helps bridge these gaps and we greatly appreciate the efforts of Sen. Tester and Sen. Ernst in extending this important program.”