WASHINGTON–A potentially life-saving initiative led by U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) that will create a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant program to leverage veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce veteran suicides has passed the Senate.
The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, a comprehensive bill that expands veterans’ access to mental health services, includes provisions from the Boozman-Warner IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act. The Senate approved the bill by unanimous consent.
The Boozman-Warner language enhances coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and would better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides. The bill creates a new grant program to enable the VA to conduct additional outreach through veteran-serving non-profits in addition to state and local organizations.
“We can’t take our focus off the veteran suicide crisis even with all that is going on in the world right now. In recent years, Congress has increased funding to reach at-risk veterans, yet the number who commit suicide each day has remained largely unchanged. It’s clear a new strategy is necessary and the approach that Senator Warner and I have proposed in this bill is a key part of that. Coordinating and sharing information between the VA and veteran-serving organizations that have the common goal to save lives will have a positive impact,” Boozman said.
“Congress came together in a bipartisan fashion to make sure our veterans receive the tools and resources they need to heal from the invisible wounds of war. Right now, too many veterans still die by suicide long after having completed their tours of duty. This important legislation will help tackle the alarming rate of veteran suicide by ensuring our military heroes have the support they need after faithfully serving our country. It’s my hope that the President quickly signs this critical life-saving bill into law,” Warner said.
The VA estimates that around 20 veterans commit suicide each day. That number has unfortunately remained roughly unchanged despite the drastic increase in funding. Over the last ten years, Congress more than tripled the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts to $222 million.
Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving healthcare services at the VA. That’s why Boozman and Warner are empowering the VA to share information with veteran-serving non-profits and requiring it to develop a tool to monitor progress so that resources can be concentrated on successful programs.
The IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act was introduced in June 2019. Days later, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie called the bill “key” to unlocking the veteran suicide crisis at a committee hearing. In January 2020, provisions of the Warner-Boozman legislation was included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. President Donald Trump is supportive of the solution outlined in the IMPROVE Well-being for Veterans Act and included the approach in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) which was rolled out at the White House earlier this summer.