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Ernst Joins Boxer, Colleagues in Introducing Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act

Bill Would 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 introduced the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, in response to the alarming increases in suicide among female veterans detailed in a recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study. The bill requires the 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.

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.

"It is shocking to learn that women veterans are committing suicide at nearly six times the rate of civilian women," Senator Boxer said. "Our bill will focus attention on which VA mental health and suicide prevention programs are working and which are not, so we can better serve the women who courageously served our country."

"One veteran's life lost to suicide is too many," said Senator Ernst. "By narrowing in on the mental health and suicide prevention programs available to our female veterans, we can ensure our returning veterans have access to quality care that meets their unique needs to transition back into civilian life."

"The Clay Hunt SAV Act, which became law last year, was a critical down payment ‎toward making sure VA has the resources it needs to prevent veteran suicide." Senator Blumenthal said. "This new, bipartisan measure is an important next step in ensuring VA provides the mental health and suicide prevention programs that meet the gender-specific needs of women veterans. With suicide among women veterans happening at an alarming rate, this bill will help 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," Senator Brown said. "This bill will ensure that the VA tailors 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 out of the House Veterans Affairs Committee in September 2015.