The ultimate goal of the Daniel Somers Network of Support Act is to help reduce the risk of suicide among servicemembers transitioning into civilian life.
In his first term in Congress, Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-CA) has established himself as a leader on veterans issues. As the year draws to an end, he continues his efforts by introducing yet another bill focused on drawing attention to the needs of service members.
Last week, Cisneros joined a bipartisan group of representatives to introduce legislation that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a support network that shares information from the VA with designated families and friends of veterans.
Under the Daniel Somers Network of Support Act, the Department of Defense would be required to establish a pilot program with the American Red Cross to “improve information sharing.” Upon enlistment, servicemembers would be asked to designate up 15 family members and friends who would be eligible to receive information about their military service.
The goal is to help the loved ones of military personnel better understand the challenges associated with service in the armed forces, as well as the needs of returning servicemembers. The information shared with them would include details about VA benefits and available state and local government resources.
Lawmakers hope that providing the families and friends of servicemembers a better understanding of what their loved one is going through will help them identify when their loved one is struggling with mental health issues, and ultimately, reduce the risk of suicide for veterans.
In 2017, 6,139 veterans died from suicide—the tenth year in a row in which the number of veteran suicides exceeded 6,000, according to the 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report.
Overall, the nation’s suicide rate is rising, but veterans are particularly vulnerable. In 2017, the suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times the rate for adults who have not served in the military (after adjusting for population differences in age and sex), according to the annual report.
“As a Navy veteran, I know firsthand the challenges that service members and their families face when they leave military service and begin to reintegrate into civilian life,” Cisneros said in a statement.
The bill was named after Army veteran Sergeant Daniel Somers, who died by suicide in 2013 after serving two tours in Iraq.
Cisneros introduced the bill on Dec. 5 with Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA), Jim Banks (R-IN), and Susan Davis (D-CA).
“I’m proud to join Congressman Peters in this bicameral and bipartisan effort to honor the Somers family and their son, Army veteran Sergeant Daniel Somers, to improve information sharing so that veterans and their families are aware of the benefits and networks of support available to them,” Cisneros said.
A bipartisan companion bill has also been introduced in the Senate.
Recently, Cisneros has spearheaded two other veterans-related pieces of legislation: a bill to improve veterans’ access to apprenticeship programs and another to protect the undocumented family of veterans and members of the U.S. Armed Forces from the threat of deportation. He also launched the Military Transition Assistance Pathway Caucus in November: The bipartisan group of representatives is dedicated to supporting service members as they return to civilian life.