Senator Merkley Marks Military Appreciation Month by Co-Sponsoring Legislation to Prevent Suicide Among Veterans

Portland, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today visited Lines for Life to see its military helpline in action and met with veterans and veteran advocates to discuss how to stem the rising tide of suicide among veterans. Senator Merkley also discussed legislation that he is supporting called the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans (SAV) Act that would help shine a light on this issue and provide resources to prevent suicide among veterans. 

“Too many of our men and women in uniform are coming home from battle with less visible wounds – PTSD, traumatic brain injury and depression. But we’re not making the same kind of commitment to treating those wounds of war,” said Merkley. “We must do more and that’s why I’m supporting this legislation to provide more support and services to our veterans.”

The SAV Act expands mental health services for veterans, as well as improves the quality of care available. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that more than 22 veterans die by suicide each day. A recent study by the Oregon Health Authority reported that suicide is the leading cause of death among veterans under 45 years of age.

“Our vets have always been there for us in our times of need – now we need to make sure we are there for them,” said Dwight Holton, CEO of Lines for Life.  “Senator Merkley’s sponsorship of the SAV Act sends a clear message:  ‘I’m there for Oregon vets and their families.'”

The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act will:

  • Extend Special Combat Eligibility from 5 to 15 years, providing access to care to troops and veterans for 10 additional years.
  • Review Wrongful Discharges. An unknown numbers of troops who struggle with mental health issues have been discharged for behavior often caused by invisible injuries. This legislation sets up a review process for potentially wrongful discharges.
  • Increase the Number of Mental Health Care Professionals at the VA. This legislation increases the VA’s capacity to meet demands for mental health care professionals by repaying medical school loans for psychiatrists who commit to long-term service in the VA.
  • Improve Mental Health Care and Suicide Prevention Programs. Under this bill, an annual review will be conducted of care programs within DOD and the VA to ensure resources are effectively combatting the problem of veteran suicide.
  • Ensure Training for Mental Health Care Providers. The VA and DOD will be required to ensure mental health care providers have special training to identify veterans at-risk for suicide.
  • Create Greater Collaboration Between the VA and DOD, providing continuous and seamless care to veterans by putting a timeline on the National Defense Authorization Act mandate to make all DOD and VA records electronic.
  • Establish a Common Drug Formulary Between DOD and the VA.  The SAV Act requires DOD and the VA to adopt the same drug formulary for prescription medication to ensure seamless care.