Senate passes bill to combat veteran suicide epidemic

Washington D.C. Bureau

WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — Twenty veterans die by suicide every day despite a rising awareness, and public and private efforts to provide support.

But in the midst of the COVID relief hubbub, the Senate quietly passed legislation lawmakers have been working on for years to improve mental health services at the VA and beyond.

“We’re losing thousands more veterans at home than we’re losing fighting men and women in the field,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA.

Cassidy has been among the large bipartisan group of lawmakers fighting to connect veterans with thousands of organizations available to them.

“They answered the call to serve our nation,” Cassidy said. “Now Congress must answer the call to better serve them.”

The legislation funds suicide prevention and emergency care through VA grants to nonprofits and community programs. Sen. John Boozman, R-AR, said the idea is patterned after successful programs in his home state.

“This connection has saved lives and reversed the suicide rate in northern Arkansas,” Boozman said.

Over the past decade, Congress has increased funding for mental health and suicide prevention at the VA, but the department said most veteran suicide victims are not receiving any VA treatment. Cassidy explained it takes about six months after departing military service before veterans can first access VA services, but most suicides are occurring in that same time period.

“So we’ve got to have this kind of transition point tightened to make sure they all know they have VA benefits for that first year,” Cassidy said.  

The legislation also allows the VA to access every veteran in need by expanding its mental health services at every hospital and through telemedicine.

“So we can reassure veterans that their best days are ahead of them,” Boozman said.  

The bill’s future is now up to the House.

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