Legislation Introduced to Combat Veterans Suicide Crisis
Sens. Mazie K. Hirono, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), introduced the bipartisan Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act. The legislation, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve oversight and evaluation of its suicide prevention media outreach campaigns, follows a 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that found the VA was not effectively and fully using resources for its suicide prevention media outreach campaign. Currently, an average of 20 veterans die by suicide daily.
“It is unacceptable that every day in this country we lose 20 veterans to suicide,” Sen. Hirono said. “Yet, despite this high number, the VA is not properly managing important resources allocated by Congress to combat this serious issue. We must hold the VA accountable for the decline in its prevention outreach initiatives. The GAO made specific recommendations for the VA to improve, and our legislation will hold the VA’s feet to the fire and improve oversight of their suicide prevention media campaign.”
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has a moral obligation to fight the scourge of veteran suicide with all the resources Congress has authorized, an obligation it is failing to meet with fatal consequences,” Sen. Blumenthal said. “VA must replace rhetoric with meaningful action and address the significant shortfalls in their suicide prevention media outreach campaigns. This bill provides an action plan to hold VA accountable for ensuring all veterans and their families are aware of the support services available during their time of need.”
“Many of our brave men and women in uniform return home with unseen wounds of war—internal struggles that too often lead to suicide,” Sen. Sullivan said. “As an officer in the Marine Corps, both on active duty and in the reserves, I have personally witnessed these struggles—at times tragic—that some of our servicemen and women undergo. This legislation will make sure that the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts are effectively targeting those vulnerable populations in the veteran community.”
“The VA has indicated that suicide prevention is its highest clinical priority and, with the alarming number of suicides in the veteran community, it absolutely must be,” Sen. Boozman said. “Congress is appropriating resources and the VA is turning that into action, but the numbers continue to trend in the wrong direction. This is why it is vital that we have metrics to measure the effectiveness of the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs. This bill will help Congress and the VA isolate meaningful suicide prevention programs so we can ensure resources are focused on efforts that save lives.”
“Even one veteran losing his or her life to suicide is too many,” Sen. Brown said. “Our servicemembers and veterans bravely stepped up and answered the call to serve. They deserve meaningful action from Congress and the Administration to ensure they have the resources and healthcare they need to prevent another life lost to suicide.”
The Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act would:
- Require the VA to establish targets that would evaluate the efficacy of its mental health and suicide prevention outreach campaigns.
- Create and maintain a thorough process to oversee VA’s suicide prevention media outreach campaigns.
- Submit a comprehensive report to both the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and Appropriations Committees explicitly detailing how the VA’s Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention is spending funds allocated for outreach efforts.
- Ensure that all future contracts include a clause that the contractor must track metrics established by the Secretary in regards to mental health and suicide prevention outreach efforts. Contractors would also be required to submit their findings to the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
In December 2018, the GAO reported in its Improvements Needed in Suicide Prevention Media Outreach Campaign Oversight and Evaluation that the VA only spent $1.5 million on suicide prevention media outreach efforts, despite being allocated $6.2 million budget for such activities Fiscal Year 2018. The report also cited that high turnover rates within VA leadership detracted from evaluating the effectiveness of media outreach activities.
Sen. Hirono previously cosponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which became law in 2015. The bill improves access to modernized mental health services and suicide prevention resources for American veterans.