Congress Passes Veterans Suicide Prevention Act</A

Oct 23, 2007

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Representative Rick Larsen (WA-02) joined a bipartisan majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass legislation to help prevent suicide and ensure that every veteran gets the care they need.  The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327) directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a comprehensive program to address the growing rate of suicide among veterans returning from combat. The legislation has already passed the Senate and will next be sent to the President’s desk to be signed into law.  The Suicide Prevention Act is named after Joshua Omvig of Grundy Center, Iowa, a veteran who committed suicide after returning from an 11-month tour of duty in Iraq.

“Around one thousand veterans receiving VA care take their own lives each year.  That is one thousand veterans too many,” said Larsen. “VA staff do excellent work, but we must take a more comprehensive approach to make sure that every veteran who needs help gets it. We must do more to save the lives of the men and women who have served our country and worked to keep us safe.”

According to a study published in March by the American Medical Association's Archive of Internal Medicine, nearly one third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who sought care through the VA have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental health problems.  The study found that the youngest veterans -- those between 18-24 years of age -- appeared to be at greatest risk for emotional trauma following their military service.

The Suicide Prevention Act requires that the Veterans' Affairs (VA) Department puts into action a comprehensive plan to prevent suicide among veterans. The bill mandates that all patients at VA medical facilities be screened for suicide risk factors to ensure that every veteran gets the care he or she needs. It also requires that veterans at risk for suicide have access to mental health care 24-hours a day, 7 days a week.

The bill mandates that a suicide prevention counselor be designated at each VA medical facility. This counselor would work with local emergency rooms, police departments, mental health organizations and veterans' service organizations as part of their outreach to veterans. The bill also requires the VA to conduct research to identify best practices for preventing suicide among veterans.

Finally, the Suicide Prevention Act would provide outreach and education for veterans and their families to help remove the stigma that can be associated with getting help for mental illness, to help military families understand the challenges veterans face in readjusting to civilian life, and to recognize warning signs for mental illness so that family members can help their loved ones get help when they need it.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the largest increase in VA funding in 77 years – the largest single increase in the history of the Veterans Administration. This historic bill would give the VA the resources they need to serve veterans including many of the 75,000 veterans who call Northwest Washington home.