WASHINGTON, DC – The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act, bipartisan legislation introduced by Representatives Ami Bera, M.D. (D-CA) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) that would provide critical mental health resources to our nation’s first responders and health care providers.
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.
“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. “While our 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 of the HERO Act means we’re one step 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. I look forward to getting this legislation passed in the Senate and signed it into law by the President.”
The bill also creates two grant programs. The first is a program to train individual fire fighters and paramedics to provide mental health support to their peers in their organizations. The other grant would train health care providers to serve a similar role in their hospitals and practices.
“Our nation’s firefighters and emergency medical responders are heroes who risk their lives each day protecting and serving our communities. They routinely witness and experience catastrophic damage, significant injuries, and tragic loss of life, often leading to traumatic stress, mental health issues, and at times, even vulnerability to suicide,” said Representative Fitzpatrick. “For too long, the challenges facing our nation’s firefighters and emergency medical responders have gone unnoticed and untreated. We must, and we can do more to ensure our first responders have the tools and resources they need to address mental and behavioral health needs. I commend the House passage of the bipartisan HERO Act, which will support the health and mental well-being of all our hero first responders across the country, and look forward to working with Congressman Bera in seeing the bill passed in the Senate and eventually signed into law.”
The HERO Act is the culmination of listening, collaboration, and action by Rep. Bera. Over three 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 track how many firefighters and paramedics die by suicide each year. Rep. Bera worked with local and national first responder groups to introduce the HERO Act in 2018, which received support Sacramento-area first responders and 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.
“Fire fighters and emergency medical responders deal with traumatic events on the job every day. It is a fact that the toll of these experiences are the direct cause of psychological injuries and problems with behavioral health. Sadly, we have lost some of our sister and brother members to these job-related hazards,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “Thank you to Representative Bera for his strong leadership in tackling these important issues head on and for his instrumental role in the passage of the HERO Act.”
“On a daily basis, firefighters are called to serve to communities across the nation and are required to engage in situations that their eyes cannot unsee and their minds cannot forget. This cumulative trauma to our first responders has resulted in behavioral health impacts that include post-traumatic stress, alcoholism, divorce, and, unfortunately, suicide,” said Michael McLaughlin, Fire Chief (retired), Cosumnes CSD Fire Department “Congressman Bera’s HERO Act will help us identify the extent of firefighter suicides, and implement programs that can effectively treat and develop resilience for the men and women who are here to protect us.”
“Thank you Congressman Ami Bera for your focus on this critical area of public safety. The health and wellbeing of our first responders is crucial, and getting those who serve the public in emergency services the help they deserve is a great step towards a healthier public safety model,” said Ronald A. Lawrence, Citrus Heights Chief of Police.
“The California Medical Association is proud to support the HERO Act cosponsored by Congressmen Ami Bera, M.D. and Brian Fitzpatrick,” said Peter Bretan, M.D., President, California Medical Association. “Physicians and other frontline health care workers have risen to their calling in heroic numbers to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, risking their lives to care for the sickest of patients. This bill recognizes these important sacrifices and will provide important peer-counseling to protect the well-being of our frontline physicians so they can continue to serve their communities.”