WASHINGTON, DC – Today, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Ami Bera, M.D. (D-CA) reintroduced the Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act--bipartisan legislation to provide critical mental health resources to our nation’s first responders and health care providers.
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. Working on the front lines during COVID-19 has caused further stress, trauma, and burnout. The HERO Act, which passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress with strong bipartisan support, directs the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report each year to Congress first responder suicide rates, risk factors, possible interventions, and recommended interventions for further study. The legislation also requires HHS to develop and distribute best practices on the prevention and treatment of posttraumatic stress among first responders.
The bill also creates two grant programs. The first is a program to train individual firefighters 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 am proud to join Congressman Bera in introducing the bipartisan HERO Act, which will support the health and mental well-being of all our hero first responders across the country."
“Our firefighters, police officers, and emergency medical personnel risk their lives every day to keep our families and communities safe from harm,” said Representative Bera. “Tragically, many of our first responders do not have access to the support services they need, leading to poor mental health, stress, and even suicide. The HERO Act will ensure first responders and health care providers have access to mental health resources, more options for counseling, and encourage best practices to reduce suicide risk. While I’m proud the House of Representatives passed the HERO Act last Congress, it’s time we get this bill over the finish line and signed into law. We have an obligation to get our first responders the help they deserve.”
"Firefighters and emergency medical responders repeatedly witness human trauma and scenes of devastation over the course of their careers. The cumulative toll of these experiences on firefighters and emergency medical responders are linked to psychological injuries and even suicides,” said Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “The Helping Emergency Responders Overcome (HERO) Act will assist us in capturing the frequency of emergency responder suicides while simultaneously delivering the necessary resources to assist in healing traumatized emergency responders. I appreciate Rep. Bera’s continued leadership on this important mental health issue, and I thank him for introducing 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 has introduced the HERO Act to 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.”
“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.”
Representative Bera first 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.
The legislation is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Association of Suicidology, California Medical Association, the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and the National Association of Emergency Medical Technicians.