Fitzpatrick bill ensures first responders, healthcare providers receive mental health support

Mental health resources would be provided to America’s first responders and healthcare providers under a bipartisan bill introduced on March 2 by U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). 

“For too long, the challenges facing our nation’s firefighters and emergency medical responders have gone unnoticed and untreated,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said. “We must, and we can do more to ensure our first responders have the tools and resources they need to address mental and behavioral health needs.”

The congressman led almost 30 original cosponsors in unveiling the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, H.R. 1480, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA), which would require the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to improve the detection, prevention, and treatment of mental health issues among public safety officers, according to the congressional record bill summary. 

Additionally, two grant programs would be created under H.R. 1480. One would train individual firefighters and paramedics to provide mental health support to peers in their organizations, while the other would train healthcare providers to serve a similar role in their hospitals and practices, according to a bill summary from Rep. Fitzpatrick’s office.

“Our nation’s firefighters and emergency medical responders are heroes who risk their lives each day protecting and serving our communities. They routinely witness and experience catastrophic damage, significant injuries, and tragic loss of life, often leading to traumatic stress, mental health issues, and at times, even vulnerability to suicide,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick, noting that H.R. 1480 “will support the health and mental well-being of all our hero first responders across the country.”

If enacted, the newly reintroduced measure also would direct the HHS Secretary to report annually to Congress on first responder suicide rates, risk factors, possible interventions, and recommended interventions for further study, according to Rep. Fitzpatrick’s summary, and would require HHS to develop and distribute best practices on the prevention and treatment of posttraumatic stress among first responders.

The International Association of Fire Fighters, the California Medical Association, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the American Association of Suicidology, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians support H.R. 1480.

Reps. Fitzpatrick and Bera in March 2019 had introduced the HERO Act, which received approval in September 2020 from the U.S. House of Representatives before being sent for consideration to the U.S. Senate, where lawmakers in January 2020 introduced their version of the bill. However, the measure stalled in a Senate committee.