House Leadership Continues to Fall Short in Effort to Adequately Address Veteran Suicide
Contact: Miles Migliara
National Communications Manager
WASHINGTON D.C. – AMVETS (American Veterans) legislative leadership expressed disappointment regarding the outcome of a full Veteran Affairs Committee meeting Jan. 29. The purpose of the hearing was to examine how the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) ensures veterans in crisis are getting the help they need, and the extent to which VHA facilities are adhering to policies related to suicide.
The hearing highlighted the announcement made by House VA Committee Chairman Mark Takano regarding a new comprehensive strategy to address veteran suicide in 2020. The strategy calls for a “holistic approach” to combating factors that factor into suicide through seven areas: strengthen economic supports, strengthen access & delivery of care, create protective environments, promote connectedness, teach coping and problem-solving skills, identify and support people at risk, and lessen harms & prevent future risks for all veterans — not just those already in VA care.
“While we commend the House VA Committee and Chairman Takano for re-establishing their commitment to curbing veteran suicide, we find it astonishing that one year into this Congress, they are marching out a report that was created in 2017 as their “grand plan.” Worse, Congress continues to ignore damning reports released by JAMA and others regarding our current mental health approaches failing veterans. We have not heard a peep about it from this leadership.” said AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly. “When it comes to curbing suicide the time to act is now. We do not have another 6,000 veterans to waste while doddling over new hearings and fighting for a preservation of the status quo. 20 veterans on average still die by suicide daily. Every day matters and the status quo is untenable.”
In an effort to bring a holistic approach to veteran suicide, Chairman Takano noted that there would need to be the adoption of an “evidenced – based model to ensure we are addressing factors from housing insecurity to emergency mental health care access to facility infrastructure, all of which can affect a veteran in crisis.”
“In his opening remarks, Dr. Edward Coffey summed up the problem with the question ‘What does it mean to be the best in a mediocre industry?’ To his point, the VA has touted its evidence-based approach to mental health as the gold standard despite seeing no decrease in the number of veteran suicides,” said AMVETS Chief Advocacy Officer Sherman Gillums Jr. “Those who bear the task of addressing this problem need to stop touting randomized clinical trials as sacrosanct evidence of effectiveness and start focusing on the only metric that matters: the number of lives lost to suicide. Here’s the inescapable reality — the growing rate of suicide amongst veterans has not reversed course despite an enormous increase in these treatments and practitioners. A hybrid approach that creates novel evidence-based treatments along with nontraditional options a veteran may prefer is the only hope and the one option that hasn’t been tried. It’ll be hard to expand the evidence-based pool of options without the ability to gather evidence of the efficacy of new approaches. What we don’t want to see is more wrapping old ideas in new packaging, to the benefit of an industry that has benchmarked itself against mediocrity for far too long. Veterans’ lives are on the line here, and we need to see actions that reflect that urgency.”
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.