Buchanan Pushes VA to Address High Suicide Rate

Todays News

Photo courtesy VA: Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery.

Ahead of Veterans Day, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, filed legislation addressing a disproportionate number of suicides among former service members. He has now sent a letter to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee calling for consideration of the bipartisan bill. His letter was co-signed by Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Virg., who co-sponsored the legislation.

The Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act would demand the Department of Veterans Affairs to review all veteran deaths by suicide or drug overdose in the last five years. Beyond seeking out patterns and trends, Buchanan believes the data will help develop better treatment for mental health and substance abuse through the VA.

“The high rate of suicide and drug overdose deaths among veterans is unacceptable," Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in veteran suicides. I encourage my colleagues on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to pass this bill to further address these untimely deaths.”

The VA reports at least 60,000 veteran deaths by suicide between 2008 and 2017, accounting for about 15% of all suicides in the U.S. over that time.

The Disabled Veterans Empowerment Network said there have already been 6,589 veterans suicides this calendar year. That organization said rates are particularly high among combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, conflicts that stretched over most of the last 20 years. By year’s end, the group says there are about 3.9 million veterans of those conflicts. There’s also another 7.2 million veterans of the Vietnam war still alive, many still dealing with mental health issues dating back to their service.

Several veterans groups have endorsed the Buchanan bill, including the Veterans Service Organizations: the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and AMVETS. “This legislation will help illuminate the seriousness and scope of this causation,” reads a statement from the VFW. “Reducing the number of service members and veterans who die by suicide has been a priority for the VFW and will remain so until it is no longer needed. We must do whatever it takes to save the almost 20 service members and veterans who die by suicide every day.”

Photo courtesy VA: Patriot Plaza at Sarasota National Cemetery.

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