In-Depth: Sponsoring Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) introduced this bill to ensure that VA suicide prevention coordinators get the tools and resources they need to give veterans access to critical mental health resources to prevent veteran suicide. After this bill unanimously passed the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Brindisi said:
“One veteran life lost to suicide is one too many. Our bill is an important step in ensuring the VA has the tools and resources it needs to provide veterans with life-saving mental health resources. I am thankful that the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has made this a top priority, and I encourage House leadership to act quickly to bring our bill to the floor.”
After this bill passed the House by voice vote, Rep. Brindisi added:
“It is critically important that we provide our Suicide Prevention Coordinators with the resources they need to successfully address veteran suicide, and this bill is a good step toward making sure that happens. I am honored this bill passed the House, and I’ll continue to fight for all of our veterans because they fought hard for us.”
Clear Path for Veterans supports this bill. Its Chief Strategic Officer, Earl N. Fontenot, says:
“In the last decade a large number of bills and initiatives have come out of Washington D.C. aiming to combat Veteran suicide, while all great in concept, we have not seen a huge change in suicide rate. [This bill] is a great way to measure what is effective, what is not, and how the VA should pivot on what they are currently doing to better meet the mental health needs of the Veterans they serve. We commend Congressman Brindisi for the great work in championing this bill and all of the other initiatives he has quickly begun working on in the House Veteran Affairs committee.”
This legislation passed the House by voice vote with the support of 10 bipartisan House cosponsors, including six Republicans and four Democrats. Its Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), has nine bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including seven Democrats and two Republicans. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Clear Path for Veterans, and local veterans in Rep. Brindisi’s home district support this legislation.
Of Note: The National Suicide Data Report for 2005-2016 reports that approximately 20 veterans, active duty servicemembers, and members of the National Guard and Reserves commit suicide each day. This is a significantly higher suicide rate than the civilian suicide rate.
The VA is the only healthcare system with full-time employees dedicated to suicide prevention. Suicide prevention coordinators are part of the VA’s effort to combat veteran suicide: they identify high-risk veterans and ensure they receive appropriate care, conduct outreach, and promote awareness and best practices within the VA system. As of April 2019, the VA had approximately 444 suicide prevention coordinators stationed at medical centers across the country managing care for almost 30,000 veterans at high risk for suicide.
In FY2018, VA suicide coordinators conducted over 20,000 outreach events, reaching almost two million people. During oversight trips to VA facilities, VA committee staff heard from coordinators who were overworked and struggling to keep up with their casework. As an example of this phenomenon, the Atlanta VA crisis line has just eight social workers and one employee for administrative support to respond to all crisis line referrals (which totaled 3,600 in 2018) and approximately 200 veterans identified as high risk for suicide.
Summary by Lorelei Yang
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