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Veterans Groups Voice Strong Support for Baldwin’s Bipartisan Reform to Create Three-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline

Bipartisan bill designates 9-8-8 as a suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Support from leading veteran advocacy organizations is growing for U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin’s bipartisan reform to designate a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline and ensure states have the flexibility to strengthen local crisis call centers.

Baldwin’s National Suicide Hotline Designation Act is supported by the American Legion, AMVETS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS), and the Wounded Warriors Project, as well as dozens of mental health and suicide prevention organizations nationwide.   

Death by suicide is a severe problem in the veteran community with about 17 veterans committing suicide every day, on average. In 2017, in Wisconsin for example, one out of every five people who died by suicide was a veteran.

The current National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line are 10-digits, which is a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support. The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act directs the FCC to designate 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and allows veterans to press “1” after dialing 9-8-8 to be routed automatically to the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support. Additionally, the legislation will authorize the ability of states to collect fees to ensure local call centers are able to support increased volume. Baldwin introduced this bipartisan reform with Senators Cory Gardner (R-CO), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jack Reed (D-RI).

“Ensuring Veterans and at-risk groups have a simple, reliable way to access mental health services is vital to combatting our nation’s suicide crisis,” said Melissa Bryant, National Legislative Director of The American Legion. “Interventions work. We are proud to support this legislation as a critical step toward tackling this public health crisis.”

“AMVETS realizes the importance of establishing barrier-free communication channels for veterans who need immediate help, which is why we created a helpline for veterans who need to talk to someone immediately. When a veteran in crisis calls us, we work closely with the Veterans Crisis Line and refer those veterans regularly. Every day we encourage veterans to reach out for help when they need it, whether that means calling their fellow servicemembers or calling a helpline. Changing the number of the Veteran Crisis Line to 9-8-8 gives veterans or loved ones an easy number to remember in the midst of a crisis. We hope this will encourage more people to take advantage of this resource and make the call when they are in need of help,” said Sherman Gillums, Chief Advocacy Officer for American Veterans (AMVETS).

“TAPS supports the implementation of a 3 digit number for the National Crisis Line. We want to make it as simple as possible for those at risk to reach out and connect with care,” said Kim Ruocco MSW, Vice President of Suicide Prevention and Postvention at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

“I know from my days in the military that in a crisis, simple is better. This is why Wounded Warrior Project supports S. 2661 – the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2019,” said Wounded Warriors Project (WWP) CEO Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Mike Linnington. “This important legislation, sponsored by Sen. Cory Gardner and co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, would simplify access to the National Suicide Hotline by providing a three-digit phone number to dial to connect those experiencing suicidal ideations with life-saving resources. As we work to remove barriers to mental health care and employ public health approaches to prevent tragedy before it strikes, an easy-to-remember hotline for connecting veterans in distress to experts who can help is overdue. On the behalf of Wounded Warrior Project and the veterans we serve, we thank Sens. Gardner and Baldwin for their leadership on this important issue.”