Stivers introduces bill to strengthen suicide prevention program for veterans

U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) introduced bipartisan legislation Tuesday calling for the appropriate implementation of safety plans in Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) emergency rooms to protect veterans deemed to be at risk of suicidal behavior.

Rep. Stivers introduced the VA Emergency Department Safety Planning Act, H.R. 8107, with bill sponsor U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-MI). The legislation builds on a 2018 Veterans Health Administration program. It proposes detailed reporting on the Safety Planning in Emergency Departments (SPED) program, particularly focused on areas for improvement within the VA or potential legislative changes needed to improve program performance, according to a statement released by Rep. Stivers’ office.

“Simple interventions can save lives,” Rep. Stivers said. “As a Brigadier General in the Ohio Army National Guard, I understand the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform, and we owe it to them to take explore every possibility that could curb the suicide epidemic facing our veterans.”

Under the SPED program, emergency room clinicians and other relevant personnel develop a safety plan for at-risk veterans and follow up with them after discharge from the emergency department. Follow-ups help ensure that the veteran is set up with outpatient mental health care.

“Something as simple as a follow-up after emergency treatment is a no-brainer.  I’m grateful to both the VA for implementing this program, and to Representative Levin for making sure it works as best as it can,” the congressman said.

According to a 2018 study in JAMA Psychiatry cited by Rep. Stivers’ office, intervention conducted by emergency room staff reduces the odds of suicidal behavior by half. Approximately 17 veterans per day die by suicide in the United States, based on the latest data available from the VA.

The legislation is supported by the Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs, the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders, American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and Disabled American Veterans.