FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
Contact: Amanda Maddox, 202-224-7777
Lauren Gaydos, 202-224-9126
Isakson Responds to VA’s Updated Veterans Suicide Data
Calls on Senate to pass Veterans First Act to address ‘troubling’ epidemic
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, today called for more work to be done to improve mental health services for our nation’s veterans to prevent the alarming rate of veteran suicide revealed in a new analysis released today.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) today released a comprehensive analysis of veteran suicide rates in the United States based on data from over 55 million veteran records from 1979 to 2014 from every state in the nation. The new analysis found that in 2014 an average of 20 veterans a day died from suicide. That is down slightly from a 2010 analysis that estimated that there were on average 22 veteran suicides a day in the United States.
“The loss of one veteran to suicide is one too many,” said Isakson, a veteran himself. “That’s why the Senate VA Committee’s first order of business this Congress was to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act last year to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for American veterans. The VA’s latest data on veteran suicide rates in the United States shows that some progress has been made, but that we have a long way to go toward providing better access to mental health resources for our veterans.”
“My top priority as chairman is to see to it that we change the paradigm at the Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver quality services in unique ways that will benefit veterans,” Isakson continued. “That’s why I introduced the Veterans First Act – sweeping reform legislation that goes further than ever to improve the VA’s mental healthcare services for our veterans. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to pass the Veterans First Actwithout further delay to address this troubling epidemic and ensure that every American veteran has timely evaluation and coordination of care to help reduce the rate of suicide and improve the quality of health care for all of our nation’s deserving veterans.”
Isakson has long been focused on improving the quality and timeliness of care at Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities across the country. He helped uncover signs of neglect and mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Atlanta, Ga., during a Senate VA committee field hearing he held in August 2013 in the wake of three veteran suicides. Isakson has worked with the VA since 2013 to ensure the appropriate steps were being taken to improve the mental health care provided in all of its facilities.
On January 21, 2015, the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act during the committee’s first official meeting in the 114th Congress and also the first meeting with Isakson serving as chairman.
Isakson introduced the Veterans First Act earlier this year to build upon the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ work throughout this legislative session to drastically improve services for our nation's veterans. The Veterans First Act includes a number of provisions to address mental health care for veterans, including:
· Creating a Veterans Expedited Recovery Commission to examine the evidence-based therapy treatment model at VA and the potential benefits of incorporating other types of health treatments at VA;
· Ensuring veterans who served in classified missions can access mental health without disclosing classified information;
· Directing the VA to include in its training and education programs for mental health professionals, marriage and family therapists and licensed professional mental health counselors; and
· Cutting down on the VA’s bureaucracy and expanding the qualification criteria to make it easier to hire qualified mental health care professionals.
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 114th Congress.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as more than 750,000 veterans.