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Biden signs bills to help law enforcement officers cope with trauma

Updated November 18, 2021 - 7:08 pm

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden signed into law Thursday three bills to help first responders and law enforcement officers cope with stress and trauma, including one modeled after Nevada programs that provide confidentiality to those seeking mental health counseling.

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., attended the White House signing ceremony for her bipartisan bill, the Confidentiality Opportunities for Peer Support Counseling, or COPS Counseling Act.

It was one of three bipartisan bills passed by Congress to support those on the front line who protect people and help victims during traumatic events, from accidents, crime and tragedies such as the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Biden acknowledged the Nevada programs and Cortez Masto, a former state attorney general, for critical support to officers and responders who confront scenes “similar to those on the battlefield.”

Cortez Masto and Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, co-sponsored the COPS Counseling Act, patterned after Nevada programs implemented in Reno to protect privacy for first responders seeking care.

“I wrote this bill to make a difference for law enforcement in Nevada and across the country, and was proud to stand with President Biden as he signed it into law today,” Cortez Masto said in a statement.

The bill was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate and House.

Biden also signed bills to improve protections for first responders and federal officers and employees.

Drafted on confidentiality laws passed by the Nevada Legislature, the federal COPS Counseling Act would encourage law enforcement officials and first responders to seek peer counseling after traumatic experiences.

Biden said only half of states have confidentiality laws for state and local law enforcement officers who could benefit from counseling but are hesitant to seek help due to exposure and public attitudes.

“We are going to reduce the stigma around mental health,” Biden said.

Exceptions to confidentiality protections would be admissions of criminal conduct or threats of physical harm.

Cortez Masto said the law will provide officers in Nevada and across the country with quality and confidential mental health counseling services, helping save lives.

Grassley, in a statement, said law enforcement officers sacrifice so much to keep communities safe, “and they often endure challenging and traumatic situations in the process.”

He said confidential peer counseling programs provide mental health guidance and a chance to share their experiences and decompress.

The COPS Counseling Act follows another mental health bill for law enforcement approved last year.

Cortez Masto, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Republican Sens. Josh Hawley and Roy Blount, both of Missouri, sponsored legislation to combat suicide by law enforcement officers.

It, too, received bipartisan support and was signed into law last year by former President Donald Trump.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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