Feb 05 2020
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) requested information from four U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers in Virginia and Washington, D.C. regarding their strategies for preventing suicide among the veterans and families they serve. In letters to Salem VA Medical Center, Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center, Hampton VA Medical Center, and Washington DC VA Medical Center, the Senators pushed the medical centers to take a more integrated approach to suicide prevention and asked for more information regarding each facility’s outreach efforts.
“We are writing to request more information on your efforts to prevent suicide in the veterans population you serve in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” wrote the Senators. “It is clear that a new and more creative approach is necessary to combat this crisis, especially given that only six out of the nearly 20 veterans who take their own lives everyday received healthcare services at the VA.”
According to a 2019 veteran suicide prevention report by the VA, more than 6,000 veterans per year have died by suicide across the United States since 2008 – an average of nearly 20 current or former servicemembers each day. Additionally, an estimated 135 surviving individuals are affected by each suicide, including include family members, friends, and coworkers, among others. The number of veteran suicides per year has risen by 6 percent since 2005, despite hundreds of millions of dollars set aside for suicide prevention efforts by the VA during this period of time.
In their letters, the Senators asked for more information regarding each facility’s efforts to lower suicide rates among veterans. Specifically, they requested information on how each facility is employing social media and technology, as well as partnerships with various community stakeholders and veteran services organizations to reach more veterans. The Senators also asked about each facility’s use of community-specific public health data to tailor its approach to suicide prevention, and about the provision of additional suicide prevention training for community and clinical service providers.
Noting that a significant portion of the veteran population does not qualify for VA healthcare based on socioeconomic or disability prerequisites, the Senators also underscored their efforts to address this problem. In the letters, they highlighted a piece of bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Warner to establish a new grant program to expand the reach of veteran suicide prevention services, as well as bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Kaine to explore innovative mental health treatment options to help veterans combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental health issues.
In December, Sen. Warner visited the Hampton VA Medical Center, where he urged Director David Collins to quickly resolve high wait times and staffing challenges at the medical center. In his visit, Sen. Warner also expressed support for a partnership between the medical center and Virginia Beach Police to help lower suicide rates. Last week, language from a bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Warner to help address the alarming rate of veteran suicide was included in comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to expand veterans’ access to mental health services.
Through his work on the Senate Armed Services and Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committees, Sen. Kaine has been an advocate for investments in mental health services and suicide prevention efforts. In July 2018, Sen. Kaine urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to release data on suicide rates among military families.