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Bill Requires VA to Identify Mental Health Care and Suicide Prevention Programs Most Effective in Treating Women Veterans

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today praised the Senate's unanimous passage of the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act. The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to include specific metrics on female veterans in its annual evaluation of mental health and suicide prevention programs and requires them to identify which programs are the most effective and have the highest satisfaction rates among female veterans.

In a recent VA study, researchers tracked over 174,000 veteran and nonveteran suicides from 2000 to 2010 and found that the rate of suicide among female veterans increased 40 percent during that time period. The data also revealed that women veterans-who now account for ten percent of the veteran population-commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of civilian women. The risk doubles for young female veterans between 18-29 years old.

"The current rate of suicide among women veterans is heartbreaking and unacceptable," Senator Boxer said. "I am proud that the Senate has unanimously passed this bill to help ensure that female veterans get the mental health care and support they need at the VA. The women who courageously served our country deserve nothing less."

"I'm grateful that the Senate has acted and taken the important steps to pass this bipartisan legislation, which will require the VA to identify the most effective mental health and suicide prevention programs for our female veterans," said Senator Ernst. "We lose 22 veterans to suicide every day, and suicide among female veterans is higher than that of male veterans when compared to the general population. We can and must do better for our men and women alike. Our servicemembers have selflessly sacrificed in defense of our freedoms. We absolutely must ensure that our veterans are prepared to transition back to civilian life, and that includes access to the quality and timely mental health care they deserve."

"Senate passage of this bipartisan measure builds on the progress made by legislation I was proud to help lead, the Clay Hunt SAV Act. It is critical to ensuring the VA's mental health and suicide prevention programs meet the gender-specific needs of our nation's women veterans," Senator Blumenthal said. "With suicide among women veterans occurring at an alarming rate, this bill will help literally save lives by ensuring VA is providing the care, counseling and outreach these veterans need‎."

"Improving access to quality mental health care programs and professionals is a critical part of supporting our veterans when they return home," said Senator Brown. "This bill will ensure that the VA assesses mental health programs to more effectively serve female veterans."

There are more than two million women veterans in the United States, making them the fastest growing subpopulation of veterans treated by the VA. While the VA has made strides to improve and expand mental health and suicide prevention programs aimed at women, there is no gender-specific data available on the efficacy of these programs.

Similar legislation authored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) passed the House on February 9, 2016. The Senate bill will now head to the House for final passage.