Do suicide prevention programs help? Veterans in Congress want to find out.

Abbie Bennett
June 28, 2019 - 2:00 pm
VeteranSuicideCrisisLine

Photo by Zachary Hada/55th Wing Public Affairs

Department of Veterans Affairs funding continues to increase, but the rate of veteran suicide has remained mostly stagnant. 

The House recently passed several budget bills, one of which included funding for the VA for the coming year with a 10 percent increase over the previous year. But the rate of veteran suicide -- about  20 per day -- has remained largely unchanged. Of those 20, about 14 are not receiving regular care from the VA at all, officials say. 

Two veterans in Congress introduced a bill this week to track how effective veteran suicide prevention programs and outreach are -- Marine Crops veteran Rep. Jack Bergman, R-Mich. and Air Force veteran Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-Penn.

The bill is called the IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act and a version was already introduced to the Senate by Senators John Boozman, R-Ark., and Mark Warner, D-Va. 

"As a veteran, I am passionate about protecting those who have served our country,” Houlahan said. “I am proud to be introducing the (bill) to more aggressively work towards preventing tragedies in our veteran community. It’s also important to note that women veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as non-veteran women. As the Chair and Founder of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, I am proud to be helping lead this effort alongside my colleagues to stop this epidemic that is killing our veterans.”

In 2010, the VA asked Congress for about $62 million for suicide prevention work. With the passage of the most recent VA funding bill, that number has nearly quadrupled to $222 million. 

With more than 50,000 community organizations nationwide also committed to preventing veteran suicide, bill sponsors said their proposed legislation also would allow the VA to work more closely with those groups to reach more veterans and to make sure veterans know about all available resources.

“Despite significant VA funding increases for veteran mental health and suicide prevention over the past 15 years, the number of veteran suicides per year has remained virtually unchanged," Bergman said. "Preventing veteran suicide takes a community, and the IMPROVE Act will put forth a new framework  for the VA and those nationwide network of organizations to work together and deliver outcomes that benefit our veterans."

For more information on potential warning signs of suicide, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 (select option 1 for a VA staff member). Veterans, service members or their families also can text 838255 or go to veteranscrisisline.net.

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