Serving our nation in uniform was one of the greatest honors of my life. It left me with countless experiences, lifelong friends, and lessons that I carry with me every day. It also provided me with a deep appreciation and understanding for the unique challenges our servicemembers and veterans face.
In the Senate, I’ve made supporting the men and women of our military—including their mental health needs—one of my top priorities. That’s why I was so disturbed by a recent report that revealed a tragic and alarming trend. In 2020, suicides among our active-duty servicemembers jumped by a staggering 15 percent according to figures released by the Pentagon.
Our military men and women carry out selfless duties every day to protect our nation, and oftentimes, they face serious and distinct challenges. America cannot fail those who protect us. We need to put out the S.O.S. and get to the bottom of this disturbing increase in suicides.
In an effort to do that, this week I partnered with Democratic Senator Mark Kelly of Arizona to force the Pentagon to take immediate action to step up their efforts to combat servicemember suicide. We put forward a bipartisan bill we call the Save Our Servicemembers – or S.O.S. – Act. It directs the Pentagon to evaluate the effectiveness of their suicide prevention efforts. It also pushes the military to improve its data collection, reduce bureaucratic duplication, and clean up the collaboration and communication between its offices.
This past spring, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a nonpartisan watchdog agency, released the findings of a review of the Pentagon’s suicide prevention programs – a report that Senator Kelly and I used as a blueprint for the SOS Act. Our bill puts these GAO recommendations into action. We are proud to have the strong and bipartisan support of more than 30 Republican and Democratic senators, along with the backing of critical veterans service organizations like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, and the Association of the United States Army (AUSA).
The facts are clear—we cannot wait any longer to tackle this issue that plagues too many of our men and women in uniform. This straightforward, bipartisan measure is a good place to start. The SOS Act will lay out simple steps the Pentagon should take immediately to help provide needed support for our heroes. Let’s pass this bill and help save lives.