(Washington, D.C.) – U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, has joined with Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Robert Casey (D-PA) to call on state Governors to begin reporting critical statistics on suicides among military veterans in their states. The effort, which comes amid a steadily rising suicide rate among veterans and members of the military, focuses on pushing 41 states to create a direct link to the VA to communicate information about veteran suicides. That information is particularly important for tracking and prevention efforts as many suicides among veterans not enrolled in the VA often go unrecorded.
“One of the most significant obstacles to understanding veteran suicide is the lack of information available regarding these individuals,” the Senators wrote. “In many cases the Department of Veterans Affairs does not even know that a veteran has died if that individual was not enrolled in VA health care.”
In addition to the National Governors Association the letter sent by the Senators also went to the National Association of Medical Examiners, which is the professional organization for medical examiners and death investigators who are responsible for investigating deaths that are violent, suspicious, or otherwise unusual.
The full text of the Senators’ letter is below:
July 20, 2011
The Honorable Dave Heineman
Chair, National Governors Association
444 North Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20001-1512
Dear Governor Heineman:
As you know, there has been a disturbing rise in suicide rates among veterans and members of the military. We are sure you find this trend as troubling as we do. As we continue our work to provide all the needed resources and services to assist servicemembers and veterans with mental health concerns, we ask for your assistance in this effort.
One of the most significant obstacles to understanding veteran suicide is the lack of information available regarding these individuals. In many cases the Department of Veterans Affairs does not even know that a veteran has died if that individual was not enrolled in VA health care. This makes it very difficult for researchers and mental health professionals to study the information and design effective, targeted campaigns to prevent suicide.
This is a result of the fact that only 16 states provide information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. VA has also been working with the states to create a direct link between the states and VA to communicate information about veteran suicide, but so far only nine states have reached such an agreement with the Department.
We understand that many states have efforts underway to address this problem. It is important to ensure that these efforts are completed quickly. Further, with respect to the states which have not yet begun such efforts, we must encourage those governors to see that their states begin working with VA to reach an agreement and provide this information directly to the Department. As you know, these arrangements will be very beneficial as they will allow VA to utilize the timeliest data to improve the efficacy of suicide prevention efforts.
Thank you for your assistance, we look forward to working with you on behalf of the nation’s veterans.
Patty Murray John D. Rockefeller IV
Robert Casey Max Baucus