WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined Senate colleagues in introducing 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.”
The bill was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Brown joined Sens. John Boozman (R-AR), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to co-sponsor the bill. All the co-sponsors are members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“Even one veteran losing his or her life to suicide is too many,” said Brown. “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 December 2018 GAO report Improvements Needed in Suicide Prevention Media Outreach Campaign Oversight and Evaluation, found that VA had failed to establish targets to evaluate the efficacy of its campaigns, that leadership turnover led to a dramatic decline in media outreach activities; and that VA spent $1.5 million of their $6.2 million budget for suicide prevention media outreach in Fiscal Year 2018. This astonishing report came even as the VA’s “highest clinical priority” is preventing veteran suicide and an average of 20 veterans die by suicide daily.
The Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act requires that the Department of Veterans Affairs:
- Establish targets—based on industry-standard metrics such as impressions and engagement rate—to evaluate the efficacy of its mental health and suicide prevention outreach campaigns
- Create a process to oversee VA’s suicide prevention media outreach campaigns.
- Submit a report on expenditures and obligations of funds of VHA’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and Appropriations Committees.
- Ensure all future contracts regarding mental health and suicide prevention outreach include a clause that the contractor must track metrics established by the Secretary and report these metrics to the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
Brown has long led efforts to prevent veteran suicide.
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.