(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) issued the following statement today after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released its National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, revealing a decrease in veteran suicides from 2018 to 2019:
“This report makes clear that VA’s ongoing efforts to improve mental health and suicide prevention have made a tangible, life-saving impact on our nation’s veterans. While this is a welcomed step forward, the fact is that one life lost to suicide is one too many, and veterans and their families are relying on VA to provide critical tools and resources now more than ever. As leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, we will continue working with VA to aggressively increase outreach efforts and implement initiatives that will connect more veterans with the care and resources they need to keep from falling through the cracks.”
The new report showed a decrease from 2018 to 2019 in the total number of veteran suicide deaths and a decrease in the rate of veteran suicides. Specifically, VA reported that there were 6,261 veteran suicide deaths in 2019, 399 fewer than in 2018. Of the 17 veterans who died by suicide per day on average in 2019, about ten of them had no recent interaction with the VA health care system. The data also revealed that the women veteran suicide rate decreased by almost 13 percent—the largest rate decrease for women veterans in 17 years.
Longtime advocates of strengthening the mental health resources and services available to veterans, the Senators recently introduced the Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act, a bipartisan, bicameral bill aimed at improving the Veterans Crisis Line’s staff training, management, and response to high-risk veteran callers at risk of suicide.
Building on the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act and Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act, the Senators recently championed their Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act of 2021. This law establishes three new VA Rural Access Network for Growth Enhancement (RANGE) program centers to provide community-based care and services for rural veterans diagnosed with serious mental health issues, and support additional research on rural veterans’ mental health care needs and treatment options.