After release of 2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report, AMVETS Calls for Further Accountability from both Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Contact: Miles Migliara
National Communications Manager
AMVETS (American Veterans)
WASHINGTON D.C. – AMVETS leadership expresses thoughts of continued alarm, but not shock, after reviewing the latest VA Suicide Prevention Annual Report was made public last week. While there were many statistics of notable mention found in the report, the following are key findings that foremost captured AMVETS’ attention:
“Part of this disappointing report falls on our Congressional leadership,” said AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “They have the ability to get major, meaningful legislation passed into law, and they haven’t. Further, while Congress prioritized suicide earlier in the year as record numbers of veterans commit suicide in VA parking lots, the issue has waned in Congress’s attention span. Unfortunately, we have to hope that this will serve as a wake-up call.”
“As we’ve stated many times before, we must confront an uncomfortable and deeply troubling truth: our Nation’s current efforts and approaches to suicide prevention and mental health are not working,” said AMVETS National Commander Jan Brown. “I’m deeply troubled that fellow women veterans are more than 2 times likely to take their lives compared to civilian women. It all comes full circle. If we hold Congress accountable for addressing this and working with VSOs and VA to implement programs and legislation, Congress can then hold VA accountable for properly implementing those programs and abiding by said legislation. In turn, VA can hold VSOs accountable to seeing that our members and supporters are aware of programs and resources provided by VA.”
In August, AMVETS issued a call to action, asking Congress, who had just returned from recess, to hit the ground running by prioritizing veteran suicide and mental health. In April, AMVETS commended the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs for ordering a long overdue hearing to address the veterans’ mental health crisis and a string of suicides recently committed at veterans’ hospitals. No such hearing has taken place since. In March, AMVETS expressed dismay regarding the “2018 Annual Report: VA Mental Health Program and Suicide Prevention Services Independent Evaluation” required by the Clay Hunt SAV Act. The report provided scant evidence of improvements to veterans lives despite tens of billions of dollars being spent over the past decade, and a generally unaffected rate of suicide.
In short, AMVETS has called for action, Congress has ignored, and as a result, VA mental health efforts are failing veterans. AMVETS must continue to urge the previously-promised hearing on veteran mental health be scheduled and conducted. We continue to call for proper VA representation at these hearings.
AMVETS continues to treat this crisis with the national importance it deserves with the inclusion of this issue in our upcoming demonstration ride set for Memorial Day week. The previous ride was touted as the largest pro-veteran motorcycle protest worldwide. AMVETS aims to upholding that reputation in an effort to garner much-needed national attention around the veteran suicide crisis.
“Congress can move the needle on this today by working to pass H.R. 3495, the Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act,” said Chief Advocacy Officer Sherman Gillums. Jr. “There’s no shortage of advocacy when it comes to veteran suicide. But there is a shortage of coordination that closes gaps. This bill will provide financial assistance to community providers who are making an impact across the Nation, and is supportive of the President’s Executive Order, which directs ‘to reduce the veteran suicide rate, the Federal Government must work side-by-side with partners from State, local, territorial, and tribal governments — as well as private and non-profit entities — to provide our veterans with the services they need.’”
“Congress must also address a plethora of other veteran mental health bills, resolution, or amendments that currently sit in legislative limbo. One thing is certain: time is of the essence. AMVETS and organizations that share our goals can’t do it alone; Congress has got to do its part.”
AMVETS, which is also known as American Veterans, is the most inclusive Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization open to representing the interests of 20 million veterans and their families. We are veterans serving veterans since 1944.