VA Feels Pressure to Address Veteran Suicides

Following a report from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General Office (IG) regarding veteran suicide, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Chairman is calling upon the VA to take agency wide action to mitigate the problem. The president has also spoken up on the issue and called for increased resources to VA facilities to combat depression.

The IG report released Thursday focused on conditions surrounding a veteran suicide within the West Palm Beach, Florida VA Medical Center. The report ultimately found that facility leaders “lacked awareness” of patient safety requirements and made several recommendations for improving training and safety conditions.

To address this situation, Chairman Mark Takano (D-CA) called for an “immediate nation-wide stand-down” to address veteran suicide. The aim is to bolster suicide prevention efforts through increased funding, accountability, and oversight.

“The facility installed security cameras 3 years ago to keep veterans safe, but never turned them on. Over-the-door alarms used to prevent veteran suicide were never installed -- despite a VA-wide recommendation. In fact, the IG report noted roughly 50 percent of VA facilities still don’t have them. And perhaps worst of all, only one third of the employees at the facility who were responsible for maintaining a safe mental health environment for patients were even assigned the required suicide prevention training,” Rep. Takano said in a statement.

Takano called for the stand-down to occur within 15 days so “every leadership executive, administrator, nurse, doctor, and employee across VA understands how to identify veterans in crisis and get them the help they need.”

Last week, President Trump also called upon VA medical centers to make large purchases of antidepressant medications for veterans.

“We’re doing a lot having to do with veteran suicide. We have a task force that’s set up. There’s a product that’s made right now, that just came out by Johnson & Johnson, which has a tremendously positive — pretty short term, but nevertheless positive — effect,” the president said. “I’ve instructed the head of the VA to go out and buy a lot of it.”

Similarly, in her first speech on the Senate floor, Senator Krysten Sinema (D-AZ) urged Congress to provide the VA with necessary resources to provide stronger mental healthcare to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Her speech highlighted the story of Sgt. Daniel Somers, an Arizona native and Iraq War veteran who died by suicide in 2013 after battling PTSD.

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