A bipartisan push from legislators to designate a three-digit phone number for a national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline is receiving growing support from leading veteran advocacy organizations.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act — introduced by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colorado), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) and Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island) — 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, according to a Thursday news release from Baldwin’s office.
The current 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis lines are a barrier to Americans in crisis seeking support, according to the release.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act directs the FCC to designate 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and automatically routes veterans who press “1” after dialing 9-8-8 to the Veterans Crisis Line for veteran-specific mental health support.
Changing the number of the Veteran Crisis Line to 9-8-8 gives veterans and their loved ones an easy number to remember in the midst of a crisis, said Sherman Gillums, chief advocacy officer for American Veterans (AMVETS).
“We hope this will encourage more people to take advantage of this resource and make the call when they are in need of help,” Gillums said in the release.
The legislation will also grant states the ability to collect fees to ensure local call centers are able to support increased volume.
An average of 20 veterans die by suicide each day, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office for Suicide Prevention.
“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,” Melissa Bryant, national legislative director of The American Legion, said in the release. “Interventions work. We are proud to support this legislation as a critical step toward tackling this public health crisis.”
As veterans advocacy groups work to remove barriers to mental health care and employ preventive public health approaches, an easy-to-remember hotline for connecting veterans in distress to experts who can help is overdue, said retired Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, CEO of the Wounded Warriors Project.
“I know from my days in the military that in a crisis, simple is better,” Linnington said in the release. “This important legislation… 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.”