WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to send to President Donald Trump’s desk the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act, which is aimed at reducing the high suicide rate among veterans.
The bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to evaluate the Suicide Prevention Coordinators program, looking at staffing shortages and coordinators’ workload. The coordinators are responsible for an array of suicide prevention activities at the VA, including counseling, identifying high-risk veterans, conducting outreach and promoting awareness.
“It is absolutely heartbreaking that after selfless service to our country, too many veterans die of suicide — and we have a responsibility as a nation to do more to support veterans who are struggling,” Hassan said. “Suicide Prevention Coordinators at the VA are engaged in such critical work, and the VA must ensure that this program is adequately staffed. I am very glad that bipartisan legislation I cosponsored to evaluate and support this program is now on its way to becoming law.”
According to the VA, 20 veterans die from suicide each day, and the suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times the rate of suicide for non-veteran adults. Due to the growing number of veterans seeking care, many Suicide Prevention Coordinators report being overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities.
The Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act would require the Comptroller General to assess the responsibilities, workload, and vacancy rates of the suicide prevention coordinator position across the VA to ensure it is adequately staffed.Hassan has prioritized other efforts to support veterans’ mental health, as well.
The VA MISSION Act that was signed into law in 2018 included provisions from the Hassan-backed bipartisan VETS Act that expands telehealth services provided by the VA, including mental health treatment. Hassan also introduced bipartisan legislation to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and Reserves, and she co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to expand veterans’ access to, and use of, public lands for outdoor therapy and rehabilitation treatments.