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Letters to the 107th Congress

September 26, 2001

The Honorable Tom Harkin
Subcommittee on Labor, HHS and Education
Committee on Appropriations
United States Senate
731 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-1502

Dear Mr. Chairman:

We understand that the Subcommittee will soon consider appropriations for Fiscal Year 2002 for the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services and Education. On behalf of the American Bar Association, I am writing to urge your support of an appropriation to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the establishment of a National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). We join with a large number of organizations from many fields in urging the appropriation of at least $10 million this year for this program.

There are approximately 50,000 violent deaths in the United States every year due to suicide and homicide (including child abuse and domestic violence). Yet we lack information about the circumstances of such deaths that could guide prevention efforts. Data collected by police, crime labs, vital statistics registrars and coroners often are stored in separate file cabinets or computers and are not linked at the local level. A National Violent Death Reporting System would solve this problem by linking data in a uniform way and collecting reports from every state. This system would give us a clearer picture of the problem of violence and enable us to better evaluate interventions implemented by schools, social service agencies, the criminal justice system, and health care providers.

The NVDRS has broad support. Both the Surgeon General and National Institute of Medicine have recommended the establishment of a comprehensive data system on violent injuries as a step in reducing suicides and other intentional injuries. The general public also supports a NVDRS, although the majority believes that such data collection already exists. In a recent poll, more than 80% of Americans thought that the government should collect data about violent deaths, and the same large percentage said that they would support the proposed NVDRS. (The poll, directed by Roper Starch Worldwide, was a random digital dial sample of 1,000 completed telephone interviews conducted in May 2001.)

To establish a NVDRS, the federal government can build on successful models already in place. The Harvard School of Public Health has developed a pilot system for collecting and linking data on violent deaths in six states and seven metropolitan areas. In close consultation with the Harvard project and other experts, the CDC has developed plans to build a National Violent Death Reporting System, similar to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) for motor vehicle deaths. Since 1975, FARS has helped to reduce traffic fatalities dramatically by providing data that have guided improvements in road and vehicle design, legislation, and prevention programs. Like FARS, the National Violent Death Reporting System would rely on federally funded state employees to collect data about fatalities from various sources (e.g., police reports, vital statistics, coroners' reports). As under FARS, the state-level data would be compiled, analyzed and published at the federal level so that they can be applied to prevention efforts.

To enable the CDC to further develop and pilot a National Violent Death Reporting System in 15-20 states, we urge you to provide at least $10 million specifically for this effort in fiscal year 2002. The ABA believes this modest investment to develop factual public health data will lead to successful federal, state, and local efforts to reduce the toll of violence in the future.


Robert D. Evans
Director, Governmental Affairs Office

107th Congress Letters Home

Governmental Affairs Office
740 Fifteenth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20005
ph: 202-662-1760
fx: 202-662-1762

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