WASHINGTON, DC – The House of Representatives voted today to pass Representative Ami Bera’s Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, legislation that would provide critical mental health resources to our nation’s first responders. Studies show that first responders are at an elevated risk of suicide compared to other professions and more first responders die by suicide than on the line of duty.
“Our nation’s police officers, fire fighters, and EMTs put themselves in harm’s way every day to protect our community, so it’s our obligation to be there for them in their time of need by ensuring they have access to life-saving mental health care,” said Rep. Ami Bera, M.D. “I am grateful that the House of Representatives passed the HERO Act, and I am incredibly proud to work for much needed mental health assistance for our first responders.”
The HERO Act directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report to Congress each year on first responder suicide rates, including identifying risk factors, possible interventions, and recommended interventions for further study. It also requires HHS to develop and distribute best practices on the prevention and treatment of posttraumatic stress among first responders.
Rep. Bera continued: “While our nation’s first responders already experience higher mental health stress and higher risk of suicide than many other professions, responding to the COVID-19 pandemic is only increasing those burdens. Our first responders must now bear the additional mental burdens that daily exposure to the virus brings, especially in light of insufficient personal protective equipment for first responders. Today’s passage means we’re closer to ensuring mental health resources get to our first responders so that they are able to cope with the added stresses of completing their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.”
The HERO Act is the culmination of listening, collaboration, and action by Rep. Bera. Over two years ago, Rep. Bera meet with Sacramento-area fire chiefs who told him that firefighters face high and increasing rates of suicide. They shared with Rep. Bera that their own colleagues had died by suicide and that the first responder community lacked the mental health resources to tackle this crisis. After investigating, Rep. Bera learned that the United States does not even track how many firefighters and paramedics die by suicide each year. Rep. Bera worked with local and national first responder groups to draft the HERO Act, which received support from the International Association of Firefighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians, the American Association of Suicidology, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance.
Rep. Bera introduced the HERO Act in 2018 and was joined by Sacramento Police Chief Dan Hahn, Sacramento Metro Assistant Chief Maurice Johnson, and Sacramento-area first responders to unveil the legislation. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Deb Fischer (R-NE) introduced companion legislation in January of this year.
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