Veteran Suicides Went Up While the VA Sat on Millions for Outreach

Between leadership issues, unspent funding and a lack of outreach, the Department of Veterans Affairs’ efforts to address and decrease the rate of veteran suicide is breaking down, according to a government accountability report.

The V.A.’s mission is to provide care for veterans and prevent them from committing suicide, but it spent only a tiny fraction of its over billion-dollar media budget in 2018, a Government Accountability Office report released Monday shows.

The V.A. had a total budget of nearly $18 million to be allocated for mental health media outreach and suicide prevention for fiscal year 2018, according to the report. It spent $57,000 of its $6.2 million media budget, as of September, the report reveals.

The department put out 339 pieces of social media content in fiscal year 2016. It put out 47 during the first 10 months of fiscal year 2018, according to the report.

“VA’s outreach activities dropped off in 2017 and 2018, and the office responsible for these activities lacked consistent leadership,” the report reads. “We also found that VA did not have clear goals for evaluating the effectiveness of its outreach activities,” the report states.

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Suicide rates have increased for both veterans and non-veterans according to a 2005-2015 National Suicide Data Report released by the VA in June. Suicide rates also increased for veterans who did not seek care, according to the report.

The U.S. suicide rate hit a 50-year high in 2017, according to a November report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Over 47,000 committed suicide in 2017, the report shows.

“This is such an important issue, we need to be throwing everything we can at it,” former director of the agency’s suicide prevention office Dr. Caitlin Thompson said, The New York Times reported.  “It’s so ludicrous that money would be sitting on the table. Outreach is one of the first ways to engage with veterans and families about ways to get help,” she added.

Thompson resigned in July 2017 over increasing pressure to embark on politically favorable initiatives that weren’t effective in helping veterans, according to TheNYT.

Thompson now works at the Cohen Veterans Network.

VA spokesman Curt Cashour blamed the lackadaisical suicide prevention efforts on former secretary of veterans affairs Dr. David J. Shulkin who was fired in March, TheNYT reported.

The suicide rate for veterans ages 18 to 34 rose nearly 5 percent between 2015 and 2016, increasing from 40.4 deaths for every 100,000 people to 45 per 100,000 people, according to a VA National Suicide Data Report released in late September. That rate is over three times the national suicide rate.

Approximately 70 percent of veterans commit suicide using a gun, according to the report.

“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, V.A. should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz, said in a statement, TheNYT reported.

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“Unfortunately, V.A. failed to do that,” Walz added.

The V.A. did not immediately respond to The Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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