On Saturday, President Trump signed into law a pair of bills designed to help prevent veteran suicide. Included, is the establishment of a new three-digit national crisis line, similar to 911, for mental health emergencies.  

The first bill is the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act. It designates 988 as the three-digit dialing number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. It also establishes rules which require all telephone service providers to direct 988 calls to the Crisis Hotline.

The new three-digit number will be much easier for individuals in trouble to remember and thus connect with professionals that can help them. 

According to the latest statistics from the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 20 servicemembers and veterans commit suicide every day. Thus, it was deemed imperative that more steps be taken by the federal government to assist veterans, servicemembers, and their families in proactive intervention services.

Therefore, in recent years, advocates had championed the idea of a hotline as a way to make emergency mental healthcare more available to veterans. 

Nevertheless, the call center will be available to all who might need it.

The new 988 crisis number will become active after the fall of 2021, according to the bill. Additionally, next spring the Undersecretary for Health and Substance Use and the VA Secretary will issue a progress report to Congress on how close the program is to being implemented and where any additional assistance will be required from Congress. 

The other bill that was signed is the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act.  It includes new data requirements to track possible causes for suicide, a new grant program to encourage collaboration with community organizations on suicide prevention, and new hiring rules to quickly fill mental health openings at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Veterans groups firmly supported both bills which breezed unanimously through the Senate and the House having already received the support of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie was very supportive of the bills. He views them as key improvements in an effort to better reach veterans in times of emotional or mental distress.

“People in distress and in need of timely care should face the fewest obstacles possible to get help,” he said. “The bill President Trump signed today will soon make it easier for those at risk to be quickly connected to a trained responder and will help save lives.”

Currently, and during the transition to 988, anyone in need of timely crisis suicide prevention resources can reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK). Veterans and servicemembers may reach the Veterans Crisis Line by pressing 1 after dialing the above number. They can also chat online with an expert at www.veteranscrisisline.net, or text 838255.