WEST JORDAN, Utah — Congressman Ben McAdams, who represents Utah's 4th Congressional District, spoke Monday about his bill that will direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to study the connection between veteran suicides and living in high altitudes.
"As I've listened to doctors and suicide researchers, I have been told about a possible connection between high altitude and an increased rate of suicide. In Utah, as all we know, we live with amazing access to beautiful mountains and live at higher elevations than many other parts of the country. This is why, for Utah veterans in particular, it's important to dive in and study this possible connection," McAdams said in a news conference.
McAdams' bill, H.R. 8173, also requires a follow-up study if a connection between living in high altitudes and a risk of developing depression or dying by suicide among veterans is found.
The follow-up study would be meant to identify the most likely biological mechanism that makes living at high altitudes a risk factor for developing depression or dying by suicide, and then to identify the most effective treatment or intervention.
According to a news release from McAdams' office, veterans commit suicide at a rate of 1.5 times higher than non-veterans.
"We must do everything we can to prevent these tragic deaths and help those who have given so much to our nation,” McAdams wrote.
Chris Goehner, a Utah veteran who attempted suicide, has given his support for the bill.
"It wasn't until after I got out the psych ward, after two days of stay, that I started doing research on my own. What is causing this? This is just one way that the VA can now bring awareness to it and help mitigate those circumstances," Goehner said. "Just as they've done with counseling as a way to help, by knowing with the altitude that's how we can go ahead and make changes and be able to help stay here in Utah and be able to get the treatments that they need and deserve."
H.R. 8173 has passed the House and Senate, and President Trump could sign it as early as this week.
Help is available for anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts: