This week, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to improve coordination of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and to better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.
The IMPROVE (Incorporating Measurements and Providing Resources for Outreach to Veterans Everywhere)
Wellbeing for Veterans Act introduced by Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) creates a new grant program to enable the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct additional outreach through veteran-serving non-profits in addition to state and local organizations.
"Reducing the heartbreaking number of veterans who commit suicide every day has been one of my top priorities as a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee," said Senator Tillis
. "The bipartisan IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act is another step in the right direction to increase access to critical lifesaving programs, improve coordination, and ensure that the VA is resourcing the most effective approaches that have a meaningful, measurable track record of success."
In Fiscal Year 2010, the VA requested $62 million for suicide prevention outreach. In Fiscal Year 2020, that number nearly quadrupled to $222 million. Despite the sharp increase in funding, the rate of veterans suicides has remained roughly unchanged at 20 per day. Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving healthcare services at the VA. This points to a significant need to empower the VA to work through community partners to expand outreach. At the same time, national data indicates there are more than 50,000 organizations that provide suicide prevention services for veterans, yet they are hard for veterans to find, access, apply for and use.
To date, policy makers have assessed capacity and access to services as a measurement for effectiveness. Despite significant capacity increases, the rate of veterans suicides remains the same. There are no shared tools to measure the effectiveness of programming at improving mental resiliency and outlook, which would be indicators of reduced suicide risk.
To address these programmatic gaps, the IMPROVE Wellbeing for Veterans Act
will accomplish three broad objectives:
- Enable the VA to directly or indirectly reach more veterans than it currently does.
- Increase coordination among currently disparate community resources that serve a wide variety of veteran needs - all of which play a part in reducing the purposelessness that ends in suicide.
- Create and inspire broad adoption of a measurement tool that will indicate effectiveness of services provided for veterans suicide prevention.
Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mike Rounds (R-SD) are also original cosponsors of the legislation.