Tester, Boozman Bipartisan Bill Requires VA to Take a More Comprehensive Look at Veteran Suicide

Senators introduced Not Just a Number Act to examine veterans’ benefits use when evaluating the effectiveness of suicide prevention measures

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) are introducing bipartisan legislation to require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to take a more comprehensive look at the factors that best prevent veteran suicide.

The Senators’ Not Just a Number Act would require VA to examine veterans’ benefits usage in their annual suicide prevention report, in order to evaluate the relationship between VA benefits and suicide outcomes. Their bill would also have VA analyze which VA benefits have the greatest impact on preventing suicide, and require the Department to issue recommendations for expansion of those benefits in their fight to combat veteran suicides.

“When it comes to preventing veteran suicide, we’ve got to be looking at all the data we have on hand to see what’s working and what’s not,” said Chairman Tester. “The fact is that one veteran lost to suicide is one too many, and our bipartisan Not Just A Number Act would provide a fuller picture of the complex factors contributing to veteran suicide—ultimately helping us make better-informed decisions on how we can save more lives.”

“Improving suicide prevention initiatives remains a priority for Congress,” said Senator Boozman. “I’ve led a bipartisan push directing the VA to implement new strategies for outreach by coordinating with successful veteran-serving organizations. The Not Just A Number Act continues our commitment to modernize how we reach and serve veterans who struggle to get the mental health care and support they need. This legislation will help us make better data-driven policy decisions so we can save the lives of the men and women called to serve in uniform.”

Currently, VA only analyzes how many veterans who die by suicide had recent interactions with VA through medical or mental health appointments. Acknowledging suicide prevention goes beyond just mental health practices, the Not Just a Number Act would have VA also look at veterans’ use of disability compensation, education and employment benefits, home loans and foreclosure assistance, and housing assistance programs.

The Senators’ efforts to require a more comprehensive look at factors contributing to veteran suicide received strong backing from Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and stakeholders nationwide.

“The VFW strongly supports the Not Just a Number Act which would require VA to identify all of the factors included in veteran suicide including economic benefits,” said the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Legislative Director Pat Murray. “For far too long VA has looked at veteran suicide as simply a clinical problem, but we know the issue is much more complex than that. This bill would examine veteran suicide by looking at socioeconomic AND mental health factors in order to provide a better roadmap to combat this problem. We thank Senators Tester and Boozman for their bipartisan support for this issue and we look forward to getting this bill passed into law.”

“As DAV and our million-plus members continue our work to combat suicide among veterans, it remains imperative that our nation is armed with data that provides a holistic view of what works best in our fight to prevent these tragic outcomes,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Commander Joe Parsetich. “This bill would help the VA and other federal, state, and local government agencies better understand the role education, job training, and housing programs play in the veteran suicide epidemic. DAV is proud to support the Not Just a Number Act, and we applaud Senators Tester and Boozman for their bipartisan leadership in introducing this important legislation.”

“Suicide prevention is The American Legion’s top priority and the ‘Not Just a Number Act’ will ensure that additional data is made available to better understand the suicide epidemic facing the veteran community,” said The American Legion National Commander Vincent J. Troiola. “It is essential that VA leverage all available data to better understand how  we can assist veterans in their time of need. We thank Chairman Tester and Senator Boozman for their continued leadership and introducing this important legislation.”

“Student Veterans of America (SVA) believes veteran suicide prevention needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach, not siloed in the Veteran's Health Administration (VHA),” said SVA Vice President of Government Affairs Tammy Barlet. “The Not Just A Number Act will require the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to analyze veteran suicide data in VA's National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report beyond the VHA touch point by including Veteran Benefits Administration program usage, like education and job training. In addition, this bill will examine the workability at the Office of the Secretary level to form a new VA Suicide Prevention Office to reflect VA's commitment to suicide prevention.”

“Tragically, veteran suicide continues to be a national crisis in this country that demands sustained prevention efforts” said Wounded Warrior Project Vice President of Government and Community Relations Jose Ramos. “The Not Just a Number Act will push our community to understand more about veterans lost to suicide and drive future policies that can help save more lives. We applaud Senators Tester and Boozman for their efforts to address this crisis.”

“Our States and Territories recognize that Veteran suicide is a national public health concern and one that can only be addressed by our Nation as a whole,” National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs (NASDVA) President James S. Hartsell. “For years we have made a concerted effort to promote and expand mental health and suicide prevention efforts for our Nation’s Veterans. The ‘Not Just a Number Act’ takes our collective efforts to a new level that we fully endorse. Expanding our knowledge of the underlying issues, combined with earlier reporting of key facts, will offer State and Territory Veterans’ Affairs Departments additional opportunities to assist Veterans in crisis and provide appropriate services to help prevent suicide attempts. We commend Senators Tester and Boozman for this thoughtful, important legislation.”

“NAMI Montana really appreciates Senator Tester's work in the Not Just a Number Act to have the VA look at additional data that will help us more fully understand the challenges behind veteran suicides,” said NAMI Montana Executive Director Matt Kuntz. “Veteran suicides involve a number of factors. It's important to more fully understand those factors in order to better allocate resources and services to where they will save the most lives.”

“The Not Just a Number Act will improve data collection on veteran suicide and deepen our understanding of what VA programs have the greatest impact on suicide prevention,” said American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) Executive Vice President and Chief Policy Officer Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A. “AFSP commends Senator Tester and Senator Boozman for introducing this important legislation to increase our understanding of the factors contributing to suicide among veterans and develop solutions to help save lives.”