Tester Challenges VA to Aggressively Combat Veteran Suicide Crisis Following Reported Increase

Following recent suicide data report, Senator leads colleagues in pushing VA to connect at-risk veteran populations with mental health care and streamline suicide data collection

(U.S. Senate) – Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jon Tester (D-Mont.) is leading six colleagues in challenging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to aggressively increase its efforts to connect veterans in Montana and across the country with critical mental health care. 

Last month, VA released new data detailing an increase in suicide rates among veterans in 2017. In their letter, the Senators today pressed VA Secretary Wilkie to implement proactive measures aimed at addressing the concerning number of veteran suicides. They expressed urgency in increasing the Department’s efforts to protect and promote veterans’ well-being. 

“Statistics and experience show that there are many known risk factors that increase a veteran’s risk for suicide,” wrote the Senators. “Therefore, we urge VA to implement aggressive measures to improve veterans’ mental health… We must be assured that VA is doing all that it can to reach veterans at highest risk before the point of crisis.” 

The Senators also called on VA to deploy mental health care and suicide prevention resources to vulnerable populations including rural, women, and younger veterans. They questioned the Department’s strategies and requested that VA expand outreach to women veterans and members of the National Guard and Reserve who were never federally activated.  

“Women veterans are at particular risk of suicide compared to their non-veteran counterparts,” they wrote. “The suicide rate among women veterans was 2.2 times greater than the rate among non-veteran women in 2017, with nearly 300 women veterans dying by suicide in 2017. With women comprising an ever-larger segment of the active duty population, and therefore veteran population, VA needs to do more to reach out to women veterans and make them feel comfortable in VA facilities. What is VA doing to ensure the physical infrastructure, staff, and fellow veterans are welcoming to women veterans? How is VA reaching out to women veterans to encourage them to engage in VA services?”

Tester and his colleagues additionally highlighted the need to streamline mortality data collection, analysis, and dissemination in order to better understand the scope of the veteran suicide crisis across the nation.

The letter was signed by Senators Michael Bennet (D-Col.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).

Read the full letter to Secretary Wilkie HERE.