Rounds: VA’s Veteran Suicide Study Reinforces Need to Address Mental Health Care of Vets
Introduces Bill to Improve Mental Health Care at the VA
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, today introduced the Protection and Advocacy for Veterans Act. This legislation would establish a pilot program to improve the monitoring and oversight of mental health and substance abuse treatment programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by authorizing independent advocates for veterans receiving inadequate health care from the VA.
Earlier today, the VA released key findings of a comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide rates in the U.S., examining more than 55 million veteran records from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation. The analysis concluded that veteran suicide rates are higher than the national average; approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. While the data showed the suicide rate for veterans who receive care at VA facilities was lower than for those who did not, the overall suicide rate for veterans enrolled in the VA system continues to increase.
“Making sure all veterans receive the quality health care they have been promised remains one of my top priorities,” said Rounds. “While there are many problems plaguing the VA, the agency’s study on veteran suicide is a sobering reminder that mental health care is among the most important. Even one veteran suicide is one too many. Our returning service men and women struggle with the invisible wounds of war long after they leave the battlefield and many suffer in silence. My legislation will give a voice to veterans who need mental health care or who are unhappy with the care they have been given by the VA by supplying them with independent advocates who will act on their behalf.”
The pilot program would be created under the Protection and Advocacy (P&A) program, which is in place in all states and territories of the United States. The purpose of the P&A system is to protect the rights of patients through legally-based advocacy. Under this legislation, highly-trained, independent patient advocates would be placed in a limited number of low-performing VA medical facilities to proactively intervene and monitor the mental health care and substance abuse treatment on behalf of patients. Companion legislation has been introduced in the House by Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.).
Key findings of the VA’s analysis includes:
- 65 percent of all veterans who died from suicide in 2014 were 50 years of age or older.
- Veterans accounted for 18 percent of all deaths from suicide among U.S. adults.
- Since 2001, U.S. adult civilian suicides increased 23 percent, while veteran suicides increased 32 percent in the same time period. After controlling for age and gender, this makes the risk of suicide 21 percent greater for veterans.
- Since 2001, the rate of suicide among U.S. veterans who use VA services increased by 8.8 percent.
- In the same time period, the rate of suicide among male veterans who use VA services increased 11 percent.
- In the same time period, the rate of suicide among female veterans who use VA services increased 4.6 percent.
The full report will be publicly released later this month.