The National Defense Authorization bill now includes a provision to help states do suicide prevention work with Reserve troops.
The change has passed in the House and is now headed for a vote in the Senate.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt of New Jersey wrote part of the defense bill, giving states access to reservists’ contact information. The idea is to make it easier for states to reach out with suicide prevention messages.
Holt has been trying to get the a version of the legislation passed since 2010.
“There’s a provision that lets any state adjutant general get a list of reservists for that state, for the purpose of suicide prevention and outreach,” he said. “I think that will help. Up until now, the state couldn’t even find these people if the state wanted to offer treatment.”
Reserve members can be especially isolated when they return from service, said Ed Shank, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania National Guard.
“Most active duty members come back to a base where they left and most of their unit belongs to, so they can go next door and talk to their friends if they’re having any kind of difficulty adjusting to home life,” he said.
“Whereas Reserve component people tend to go back to the civilian community where the people they work with don’t necessarily understand the kinds of issues they might be having,” he continued.
Dr. Peter Gutierrez, who researches mental illness for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said the VA is using telelinks and instant messaging to offer specialized therapy for veterans and reserve service members in remote locations.
“In a lot of states [Reserve members are] geographically scattered all over the state. Even if they wanted to get together with someone in their unit, it might be difficult or impossible to do so,” said Gutierrez.
According to the VA, 22 veterans commit suicide each day.