VA commits to spending '100 percent' of funds for suicide prevention

Matt Saintsing
December 20, 2018 - 11:54 am

Photo by Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The VA committed to spending every dime available to them for suicide prevention outreach, two days after a government report found the department used less than one percent of the millions set aside. 

“I’m making sure that we are spending the funding 100 percent,” Dr. Steven Lieberman, head of the Veterans Health Administration told lawmakers Wednesday. “I’m reviewing the budget monthly and making sure we have obligated all the dollars.”

On Monday, a report from the Government Accountability Office said the VA spent just $57,000, of the $6.2 million they had to reach veterans for suicide prevention for 2018. 

RELATED: The VA had millions set aside for suicide prevention messaging. They spent $57,000.

The report blasted VA leadership blaming a void at the highest levels for the lack of spending, but a VA spokesman says money for suicide prevention dropped during former Secretary Shulkin’s “brief tenure.”

Less money spent, in practice, means fewer social media posts, radio spots, billboards, and television public service announcements, than in previous years. 

“Within weeks of his arrival at VA, then-Acting Secretary Wilkie appointed Dr. Keita Franklin as VA’s new suicide prevention director, and she is reviewing the spending for this important program as part of her duties,” VA Spokesman Curt Cashour tells Connecting Vets.

That position had previously remained vacant for nine months. 

Both Shulkin and Wilkie said suicide prevention is the “number one clinical priority” for the agency. 

“I can promise you that we will expend everything we can to try to correct this and address this great national tragedy,” Wilkie said to members of the House and Senate Veterans’ Affairs committees during a joint hearing on Wednesday. 

Wilkie's testimony comes the same day Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the VA Secretary calling for the full amount available for suicide prevention outreach be spent going forwars. 

“At a time when a veteran commits suicide every 72 minutes in the United States, we need to do everything in our power to combat this tragic epidemic,” wrote Buchanan. “That means spending every dollar allocated to your department for this very purpose.”

He added that bringing down the veteran suicide rate is among his “top priorities” and that he will introduce legislation “to address these problems as soon as possible.”

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