PHOENIX (AZFamily) — Suicide among veterans have been called an American tragedy. According to the latest statistics from the VA, there were more than 6,000 veteran suicides nationwide in 2021, an average of more than 17 per day.

Veterans take their lives every day, and in Arizona, data show the veteran suicide rate is more than twice that of non-veterans.

new federal bill, called the SERVICE Act, was recently introduced in Congress to help change that. It stands for “Supporting Every At-Risk Veteran In Critical Emergencies.”

Arizona Rep. Greg Stanton and Rep. Debbie Lesko are cosponsors of the bill to save lives through suicide prevention.

“I lost one solider in combat in Iraq and I’ve lost five buddies to suicide since we came home,” said Shawn Banzhaf. He is the Executive Director of the Pat Tillman Veterans Center at Arizona State University.

Banzhaf knows the struggles service members experience firsthand. He served in the Army National Guard for more than 20 years and was deployed in Iraq. After his time in a warzone, he returned home to his other job as a police officer.

“It wasn’t easy because you have trauma on top of trauma,” he said.

Many who serve our country are also called to protect and serve their local communities. According to the Department of Justice, nearly 25% of law enforcement officers have a military background.

The bill would create veteran response teams in departments across the country. Those teams would be made up of veteran law enforcement officers tasked with helping fellow veterans in crisis who may be experiencing mental health or substance use emergencies.

“Another veteran walking into that situation has the ability to de-escalate. ‘Hey I’m a veteran too, I served here, this is what I did’ and then all of a sudden you have commonality,” said Banzhaf.

The pilot program would be funded through DOJ grants in an effort to offer 24/7 veteran-to-veteran support. Air Force veteran Wanda Wright agrees this is a good idea. Still, she worries about the program’s accessibility for those in need who live in small towns or on a Native American reservation.

“When we look at data around veterans, they’re usually older, it’s by firearm, and it’s generally rural. And so when you have some of those areas out there that are rural, can you get a team together that’s all veterans?” said Wright.

In 2015, Gov. Doug Ducey appointed Wright to the Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services. She is currently the Director of the Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement at Arizona State University.

In the meantime, Offering virtual resources in some instances is one suggestion from Rep. Stanton.

“One thing that unites Democrats and Republicans is doing what we can to support our veterans,” said Rep. Stanton. He said he’s been passionate about this issue ever since he was the mayor of Phoenix. Under his leadership more than 10 years ago, the city was credited as the first to end chronic homelessness among military veterans.

Rep. Lesko shared this statement with Arizona’s Family:

“I am proud to cosponsor the SERVICE Act. This bill gives local police departments access to federal funding to add to or sustain their ranks with newly created ‘Veterans Response Teams.’ This bill is a worthy effort to empower American military veterans to help their fellow veterans who may be in need.”

This bill has a long way to go before it becomes law. The first step is getting it out of a House Committee.