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October 27, 2021

Trone’s Bill to Improve Mental Health Care for First Responders Passes House Nearly Unanimously, Heads to President’s Desk to Become Law

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 27, 2021

Contact: Sasha Galbreath, Sasha.Galbreath@mail.house.gov 

Trone’s Bill to Improve Mental Health Care for First Responders Passes House Nearly Unanimously, Heads to President’s Desk to Become Law

Maryland Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Praise the Passage of Today’s Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman David Trone’s (D-MD) Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support (COPS) Counseling Act passed the U.S. House nearly unanimously. With the passage of the Senate’s version in June, the bill will now head to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation would improve mental health support for law enforcement by creating clear standards for confidentiality. 

The bill would also encourage state and local first responder agencies to adopt peer counseling programs by requiring the U.S. Department of Justice to make best practices publicly available on its website and provide a list of training programs for individuals to become peer support mentors.

The bill passed just days after the two-year anniversary of Montgomery County Police Officer Thomas “T.J.” Bomba’s death by suicide in October of 2019. Following his death, Congressman Trone held a roundtable on mental health for first responders moderated by the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health Dr. Joshua Gordon. The discussion touched on the stigma surrounding access to mental health resources among the first responder community. Trone was inspired to write the bill as a result of the roundtable discussion. 

Peer support counseling programs have been identified by first responders as some of the most helpful behavioral and mental health resources. But too often, the stigma associated with seeking these services serves as a barrier for those in need of support. This bill seeks to correct this problem.

“When Montgomery County Officer T.J. Bomba died by suicide, it was a wake-up call for Maryland and law enforcement agencies across the country. The task was clear: improve the mental health care and support services for our law enforcement officers and first responders,” said Congressman Trone. “By passing the COPS Counseling Act, we can help remove the stigma that exists surrounding mental health and save the lives of officers in need. I’m grateful to work with Representatives Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA), Jennifer Wexton (D-VA), John Rutherford (R-FL), and Karen Bass (D-CA) and Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). I am also grateful to the first responders and law enforcement officers who work every day to keep our communities safe.”

“I am proud that today the House passed the COPS Counseling Act, bipartisan legislation I introduced with Rep. Trone that will improve mental health treatment for the law enforcement officers who put their own lives at risk to keep us safe,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler. “This legislation encourages the use of peer support counseling programs and ensures law enforcement can utilize these important mental health resources and know their privacy is protected. I urge the president to swiftly sign this bill into law so our nation’s police officers can access the mental health and wellness services they need.”

The bill is supported by multiple leaders in law enforcement in Maryland’s Sixth District.

“The COPS Counseling Act is an extraordinary piece of legislation as it will allow law enforcement officers across the country to no longer suffer in silence,” said Chief Marcus Jones, Montgomery County Police Department. “Confidentiality and trust for enhanced peer support and other services will save many lives during difficult times.  I applaud Congressman Trone’s legislation to help our men and women who serve our communities throughout the nation.” 

“I applaud Congressman Trone for championing the COPS Counseling Act, a bill that acknowledges the stigma that first responders face related to mental health services. In our line of work, we experience so much trauma and deal with horrific moments in our society from fatal traffic accidents, to child abuse cases, to homicides,” said Chief Paul “Joey” Kifer, City of Hagerstown. “It is not hard to imagine why law enforcement personnel deal with suicidal thoughts given the stress of the job, but many of us don’t seek the help we need. Accessing mental health services is vital to our long term health and wellness and this legislation will address this need.” 

“Law enforcement officers are exposed to traumatic events on a regular basis throughout their careers, all while putting on a brave face,” said Sheriff Craig Robertson, Allegany County. “Unfortunately, there is a stigma that getting help to navigate these difficult situations is a sign of weakness, but in fact it is a sign of strength, and I believe that peer support through speaking with other officers who know the job is a vital part in keeping our Department’s employees safe. The passage of Congressman Trone’s COPS Counseling Act will help the 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the nation address our officer’s mental health needs.”

“Our women and men of law enforcement witness more human tragedy in a year than the average person experiences in a lifetime. Repeated exposure to domestic violence, child abuse, drug addiction, suicide, traffic fatalities, etc., slowly take their toll on those who serve. Cops are human and they have their own daily struggles, in addition to the struggles of others which they are called upon to handle every day,” said Chief Jason Lando, City of Frederick. “As a society we have a duty to our police officers to make sure they are both physically and mentally healthy when they go to work every day. Part of this duty includes removing barriers and the stigma sometimes associated with asking for help. The COPS Counseling Act is a much needed step towards accomplishing that goal. Officer wellness ultimately equals community wellness and that’s something we should all get behind.”

“I would like to thank Congressman Trone for working hard to pass the COPS Counseling Act,” said Sheriff Doug Mullendore, Washington County. “Police Officers are subject to witnessing horrific crime scenes and death and suffer mental stress as a result. Therefore, they should be entitled to receive peer-to-peer services without having to report it to their agency or governmental body.”

“My officers face unique stressors every day and regularly cope well and have a strong support system around them. There are times, however, that the stressors of the job and compassion fatigue do wear on a person,” Chief Chuck Ternent, Cumberland City Police Department. “Having confidential help services available thanks to the COPS Counseling Act will undoubtedly help improve the lives of those who take advantage of it and improve the quality of policing.”

You can read more about the legislation here.

You can read the entire bill text here.

Congressman David Trone was elected to the House of Representatives in November 2018 to serve the 6th District of Maryland, which includes all or part of Montgomery, Frederick, Washington, Allegany, and Garrett Counties. Trone serves on the Appropriations, Veterans’ Affairs, and Joint Economic Committees in the 117th Congress and previously served on the Education and Labor and Foreign Affairs Committees. In Congress, Trone is fighting to make progress on issues that matter to Marylanders, including the mental health and addiction crises, criminal justice reform, and funding for medical research.

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