WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bipartisan legislation authored by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Josh Hawley (R-MO) to increase mental health resources for law enforcement personnel at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has advanced in the Senate. The legislation would create the DHS Law Enforcement Mental Health and Resiliency Program to oversee and streamline the delivery of enhanced mental health and wellness services for DHS law enforcement officers and agents. The bill was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, where Peters serves as Chair. It now moves to the full Senate for consideration. U.S. Representatives Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS-02), Ranking Member of the House Homeland Security Committee, and Andrew Garbarino (R-NY-02) are leading companion legislation in the House.
“Congress must ensure that law enforcement officers and agents at the Department of Homeland Security have the support they need to carry out their challenging missions,” said Senator Peters. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill will ensure these dedicated law enforcement professionals have the mental health resources they need so they can effectively protect our communities.”
“I am proud to introduce the DHS Suicide Prevention and Resiliency for Law Enforcement Act alongside Chairman Gary Peters,” said Senator Hawley. “This legislation aims to prevent the growing number of suicides among law enforcement personnel, many of whom bravely serve at our southern border.”
“NTEU commends Sen. Gary Peters and Sen. Josh Hawley and Rep. Bennie Thompson and Rep. Andrew Garbarino for making the mental health and well-being of Customs and Border Protection employees a top priority. Their legislative proposal to create the Law Enforcement Mental Health and Welfare Program at the Department of Homeland Security would be a significant step toward making mental and behavioral health services more accessible to the thousands of CBP employees we represent at our nation’s ports of entry. Because CBP Officers and other frontline employees work long hours in highly stressful, demanding, and potentially life-threatening environments, those dedicated employees need access to effective behavioral health services which include an effective Peer Support Program, an improved Employee Assistance Program, and the removal of the stigma and other obstacles that serve as barriers to employees seeking assistance. NTEU has been working with Congress to provide comprehensive health and wellness resiliency resources and protections for the CBP workforce which we believe are essential to address the needs of our members whose jobs are to secure our nation’s land, sea, and air ports of entry,” said Tony Reardon, National President of the National Treasury Employees Union.
“I thank Chairman Peters and Senator Hawley for their leadership in expanding access to mental health for Border Agents. The situation at the border is putting Border Agents under incredible stress. I am hopeful this legislation will reduce the stigma against mental health services within the Agency, encourage more Agents to seek these services, reduce suicides, and ultimately improve their mental wellbeing,” said Hector Garza, Vice President of the National Border Patrol Council.
Law enforcement officers and agents at DHS frequently conduct dangerous and traumatizing missions to safeguard communities. The legislation would provide DHS with a comprehensive and targeted approach to support the mental health and wellness of law enforcement personnel at this critical agency.
The DHS Suicide Prevention and Resiliency for Law Enforcement Act will establish a Law Enforcement Mental Health and Resiliency Program within DHS. The program will provide additional oversight, guidance, and resources to DHS components that perform law enforcement duties. The bill would also require DHS components to prioritize mental health, well-being, resilience, and suicide prevention programs. This bill would require each DHS component to assign a representative to the program to ensure the sharing of best practices and resources across the department. The bill would also require the review and revision of current policies to improve mental health and wellness programs and training and reduce the stigma of seeking mental health assistance.