WASHINGTON, D.C. – During a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing held last week, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) pushed Department of Veterans Affairs officials to consider all factors contributing to veteran suicide rates. Brown urged VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Dr. Keita Franklin, Executive Director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Suicide Prevention Program, to work with the Department of Defense to ensure servicemembers and veterans are equipped with the mental health treatment and support services they need.
“Servicemembers and veterans face stressors that we in civilian life do not,” said Brown. “They have already sacrificed so much and shouldn’t have to worry about where and how to find the VA services and support they need when dealing with mental health or addiction issues. We should ensure VA is equipped with the resources to deliver services and support needed to prevent veterans suicides.”
During the hearing, Brown also expressed concerns about the implementation process for the Executive Orders to improve mental health care and reduce suicide for servicemembers transitioning to civilian life. He also urged the Department to provide transparency and answers on how VA plans to implement the Executive Orders.
Brown has long led efforts to prevent veteran suicide.
Earlier this year, Brown introduced the Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act, legislation that would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to improve the operation, oversight, and evaluation of its suicide prevention media outreach campaigns. The Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act adopts several recommendations from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which reported in December 2018 that the VA’s suicide prevention outreach activities had “dropped off in 2017 and 2018.”
In 2017, Brown’s bill, the Veteran Partners’ Effort to Enhance Reintegration Act (Veteran PEER Act), was included in the Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee’s Caring for Our Veterans Act and later in the John S. McCain, Daniel K. Akaka and Samuel R. Johnson VA MISSION Act of 2018, which was signed into law on June 6. The Veteran PEER Act would require VA to establish peer specialist in patient aligned care teams to promote mental health, substance use disorders, and behavioral health in a primary care setting.
In 2015, Brown’s Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (Clay Hunt SAV) Act, was signed into law. The Clay Hunt SAV Act requires an independent system-wide assessment of existing VA mental health programs to better determine areas for improvement and consolidation. The legislation created a pilot loan repayment program to help recruit additional VA psychiatrists while strengthening relationships between the VA and non-profit mental health organizations as a way to better serve veterans.
Brown’s bipartisan Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act was also signed into law in 2016. The legislation expands the VA’s yearly evaluation of mental health and suicide prevention programs to include metrics specific to female veterans. It also requires the VA to measure which programs are most effective for female veterans.
Brown encourages any veterans, servicemembers, or their families who are in crisis to seek help and assistance by contacting the Veterans Crisis Line – a confidential resource that connects veterans, their family, or friends, with qualified VA responders – at 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1.