SB 521— Veteran Suicide Prevention – Comprehensive Action Plan

Committee: Senate Finance

Position: SUPPORT

The Maryland Catholic Conference (“Conference”) represents the public policy interests of the three Roman Catholic (arch)dioceses serving Maryland: the Archdiocese of Baltimore, the Archdiocese of Washington, and the Diocese of Wilmington, which encompasses over one million Marylanders.

Suicide is a public health challenge that causes immeasurable pain among individuals, families, and communities across the country. Suicide is also preventable. Veteran suicide is an urgent issue that the Maryland General Assembly and citizens of Maryland must address.

Senate Bill 521 includes both short-term and long-term initiatives for raising awareness of and providing resources for veteran suicide prevention; including funding resources, public-private partnerships to ensure quality and timely mental health services, outreach to those in need, peer-to-peer service coordination, all in coordination with the Maryland Department of Veterans Affairs and the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “an average of 20 Veterans die by suicide each day.” Strengthening protective factors can help prevent suicide by promoting physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellness. For example, building the problem-solving skills and social support of Service members transitioning from the military can help them better cope with future challenges as Veterans. A focus on strengthening protective factors should be the norm rather than the exception.

Reducing access to suicide methods that are highly lethal and commonly used is a proven strategy for decreasing suicide rates. Limiting access to lethal means during periods of crisis can make it more likely that the person will delay or survive a suicide attempt. Educating Veterans with suicide risk — and their loved ones — about safe firearm storage and access, as well as the appropriate storage of prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, and poisons. Outreach efforts can also educate Veterans and other care providers about reducing the stock of medicine in the medicine cabinet to a nonlethal quantity and locking up medications that are commonly abused (e.g., prescription painkillers and benzodiazepines, which are used to induce sleep, relieve anxiety and muscle spasms, and prevent seizures.)

A complex challenge like Veteran suicide will only be solved with a comprehensive, coordinated approach that reaches across many sectors. It is for these reasons that the Conference respectfully urges a favorable report for Senate Bill 521. Thank you for your consideration.