Joyce sponsors bipartisan Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act

To help reduce the suicide rate among United States military service members, a bill led by U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) would direct the U.S. Defense Secretary to carry out a pilot program in which suicide prevention resources would be pre-programmed into certain smart devices issued to members of the Armed Forces.

“We lose 17 veterans to suicide every day in America. That is 17 too many,” Rep. Joyce said. “As Americans, it is our responsibility to support the men and women who sacrifice so much to defend our freedoms.”

Rep. Joyce on April 28 introduced the Military Suicide Prevention in the 21st Century Act, H.R. 3009, with lead original cosponsor U.S. Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA). If enacted, H.R. 3009 specifically would require the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to pre-download an app called Virtual Hope Box, as well as the National Suicide Hotlines, onto service members’ government-issued smartphones, and require the DOD to identify innovative solutions to military suicide, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Joyce’s office.

Created by the Defense Health Agency in 2014, the Virtual Hope Box is one of only a few empirically tested smartphone tools designed to support individuals at risk for suicide, and it allows for a mix of pre-loaded and user-created content that can be customized for each individual’s specific needs, the summary says. 

“Members of the Armed Forces who are behavioral health patients experiencing distress, emotional dysregulation, or suicidal ideation are often separated from direct clinical support when they need it,” according to the text of the bill. “The Virtual Hope Box application offers a highly portable, accessible, and discreet tool for effectively increasing coping self-efficacy.”

Rep. Panetta said that more must be done to provide increased mental and behavioral health services to U.S. service members. “No one, especially those who bravely serve our nation in uniform, should have to wait to receive lifesaving care or support,” he said.    

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention endorsed H.R. 3009, which has been referred for consideration to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee.