Homeland Security law enforcement officers have been placed under a lot of stress, including those at the border.

Homeland Security law enforcement officers have been placed under a lot of stress, including those at the border. Ozzy Trevino / Customs and Border Protection

Homeland Security law enforcement officers would receive more mental health support, under a bill advancing in the House

Bipartisan legislation reported out of committee earlier this week comes in the wake of an uptick of suicides among border personnel. 

The Homeland Security Department would need to establish a new mental health support program for its law enforcement employees, under a bipartisan bill that advanced out of a House committee. 

The House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday reported out the DHS Suicide Prevention and Resiliency for Law Enforcement Act (H.R. 2577), which would require officials to set up within the department’s medical office a mental health and wellness program for law enforcement personnel. Departmental components including Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Transportation Security Administration, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the inspector general’s office would benefit from the program’s guidance and resources.  

“Today’s markup secured a bipartisan victory for DHS law enforcement by advancing legislation to enhance crucial mental health resources that will save lives,” said Rep. Mark Green, R-Tenn., chairman of the committee, in a statement. “From Border Patrol agents and CBP officers facing this historic crisis [at the Southwest border] to Secret Service and TSA agents, the men and women working every day to secure the homeland deserve the support needed to succeed in their mission.”

As part of the program–which would be set up within 180 days of the bill’s enactment–the department would gather research and best practices on mental health for law enforcement personnel. It would also collect data on suicides and–if possible–attempted suicides, which have been a growing issue within the department. 

Customs and Border Protection reported 15 suicides among its employees in 2022–the most since 2007, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., ranking member of the committee and a lead sponsor of the bill, along with Rep. Andrew Garbarino, R-N.Y. Those numbers, along with a Government Accountability Office report showing widespread cases of extreme fatigue and stress among the Transportation Security Administration’s air marshals, sparked the introduction of this legislation, Thompson said. 

“I look forward to the House considering this bipartisan legislation aimed at ensuring that life-saving resources are available to the men and women protecting the homeland in the very near future,” Thompson added. 

The program would offer training and education to raise mental health awareness, prevent suicides, eliminate stigma associated with seeking help and supporting colleagues who have experienced trauma. Program officials would oversee mental health efforts at the department’s component agencies, and the components would assign a representative to report back to the central program office.  

A companion bill has been offered in the Senate by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Josh Hawley, R-Mo.