Tester Challenges VA to Better Combat Veteran Suicide

During Suicide Prevention Month, Senator Pushes VA to Improve Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care, Suicide Prevention Efforts

(U.S. Senate) – During Suicide Prevention Month, Ranking Member Jon Tester is challenging the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to ramp up its efforts to connect every veteran in need with mental health care.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, Tester urges the VA to deploy more of its mental health care and suicide prevention resources to at-risk and vulnerable veterans.

“With the renewed focus on enrolling veterans to receive care at VA as they transition from active duty, it was promising to see the focus on veterans’ demographics,” wrote Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Our women veterans remain twice as likely as non-veterans to complete suicide, and younger veterans have a higher suicide rate than older veterans. I continue to be alarmed by these disparities, and I support all efforts to educate women and younger veterans about the VA’s services.”

Tester pressed Wilkie to fully staff VA medical facilities and Vet Centers with mental health clinicians by offering competitive pay for psychologists and making it easier to hire mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists. To better provide mental health care for rural veterans, Tester asks Wilkie to expedite the expansion of mental telehealth care and better address the workforce shortages that continue to plague VA facilities.

“I urge VA to expedite releasing regulations for the telehealth authority granted in our VA MISSION Act,” Tester wrote. “VA clinicians need the freedom to practice over state lines off federal property so that veterans can more easily receive the high-quality mental health care that VA provides. Having this program in place before the winter begins will provide peace of mind to veterans and loved ones who may otherwise have dangerous drives to receive care at VA or community health facilities.”

Tester urged Wilkie to invest in risk prevention strategies that have proven to be effective in preventing veteran suicide and utilize the VA’s best practices to reach out to veterans who are in need.

Tester also wants Wilkie to streamline the path for getting research for treating post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, and other combat injuries into clinical trial.

Tester’s letter is available online HERE.