A Call for Comprehensive Suicide Prevention, Research and Program Innovation

December 18, 2014

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The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act was one of the most important pieces of proposed legislation that came out of the 113th Congress.  This is in due to the fact that the SAV act was created to address the dire issue of veteran suicides in our country. Yet due to a singular Senator’s block the bill was unable to pass through the upper chamber of our nation’s legislative branch.  

While there is much justified outrage over the actions of Senator Tom Coburn in blocking the passage of this popular and bipartisan supported bill, all parties concerned would be well served to move forward by taking the opportunity to improve upon the bill and its outcomes.

The SAV Act as proposed, set  “to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to provide for the conduct of annual evaluations of mental health care and suicide prevention programs of the Department of Veterans Affairs, to require a pilot program on loan repayment for psychiatrists who agree to serve in the Veterans Health Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and for other purposes.”  Aside from forcing the VA to “provide” for the annual evaluation of its own programs, this bill also included a $22 million dollar appropriation for a pilot program.

The pilot program as written was geared toward providing loan repayment for psychiatrists who work with in the Veterans Health Administration for a specified term.

While the passage of the SAV Act would have been an excellent first step toward addressing the tragic and growing impact of suicide on our nation’s veterans, the truth is that it simply does not extend far enough.

 Over the past session there have been a number of suicide prevention, research, tracking and program innovation bills, each with varying purposes and amounts of funding required for implementation. These include Senator Begich’s SPRINT Act that was written to enable the National Institute of Mental Health to conduct studies designed to reduce the risk of self-harm, suicide, and interpersonal violence (specifically in rural communities with a lack of mental health services); and Congresswoman Tsongas’s DOD Suicide Tracking Act that would have required the Branch Secretaries and the Secretary of Defense to establish branch-specific programs to track, retain, and analyze information regarding suicides involving dependents of members of the regular and reserve components of the Armed Forces.

With this in mind, a viable solution is to examine these already-existing bills and how they might fit together to address veteran and service member suicide more completely rather than approaching it in an incremental fashion. Simply put, veterans and service members are running out of time, their families are suffering in silence, and swift and carefully directed action is immediately essential.

In the coming year, our goal is to work with veterans and military organizations in order to create a holistic and comprehensive omnibus bill that addresses the various components comprising and impacting veteran and servicemember suicide. These include research-based methods of suicide prevention and other programmatic innovations that will enable us to establish a coordinated, comprehensive, and well-constructed method of addressing the tragic and continuing deaths of our nation’s defenders. They and their families deserve nothing less.