Ernst Demands Answers from the VA After Report Shows Uptick in Suicide Rates

The senator, a veteran herself, is requesting an update from the VA on their suicide prevention efforts

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran and a steadfast advocate for Iowa veterans, is requesting an update from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) on their suicide prevention efforts in response to a report that showed an uptick in the rate of veteran suicide from the previous year. This builds on the senator’s efforts from last year when she questioned VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on the VA’s questionable performance regarding suicide prevention outreach.

In a letter to Secretary Wilkie, Senator Ernst writes: “Last year, as described in my letter to you in 2018, there were disturbing reports of misuse of VA funds that were intended for suicide prevention outreach. Your response outlined steps the VA is taking to combat veteran suicide.  I am writing to request an update on how the VA is continuing this work to address the known contributing factors to high veteran suicide rates.”

Specifically, Senator Ernst asked for an answer to the following questions:

  1. How is the Department working to provide employment opportunities for veterans? How can the VA connect with employers in small, more rural communities where many of the veterans I represent live?
  2. How is the Department working with public and private entities to reduce veteran homelessness? What recommendations do you have for fully addressing this issue?
  3. Have wait times decreased since the passage of the landmark VA MISSION Act? What is the average wait time for a veteran to see a mental health prescriber? What role can telemedicine play in reducing wait times? Are there remaining challenges for patients and providers to optimize the telemedicine program?
  4. Finally, how is the Department conducting suicide prevention outreach? Are there additional resources needed in order to reach veterans across the country?

Background:

Combating veteran suicide and making sure our veterans have the best quality care is a top priority for Senator Ernst. In August, President Trump signed her bipartisan bill, the HAVEN Act, which protects the economic security of veterans experiencing financial hardship – an important step forward as economic insecurity has been identified as one of the causes of suicide among veterans.

Ernst has also worked hard to expand access to services through the bipartisan VA MISSION Act, which included a number of her priorities, like allowing qualified VA health providers to practice telemedicine across state lines and enabling veterans to receive care, such as vital mental health care treatment, from the comfort of their own homes. She also continues pressing for the swift passage of her Ensuring Quality Care for Our Veterans Act, which holds the VA accountable for hiring providers with revoked licenses.

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