Veterans Affairs Fails to Curb Suicide Epidemic


As returning veterans struggle to get sufficient mental health care, a new report calls for expanding care by allowing a greater role for the private sector and Health Savings Accounts.

“Veterans represent only 7 percent of the population, but 22 percent of all suicides,” says Senior Fellow Pamela Villarreal.  “They question is, how we help ensure that veterans get help before it’s too late?”

Veterans are required to receive an initial evaluation within 24 hours of contacting VA facilities for mental health issues, and a comprehensive evaluation within 14 days.  But last year, some waited as long as 60 days for an evaluation.

Veterans are often reluctant to seek treatment, or live in rural areas far away from major VA facilities.  Smaller, community-based clinics are often understaffed or lacking enough mental health professionals.

Part of the long-term solution, says Villarreal, is to allow a greater role for the private sector.  “A G.I. health care bill, which would allow veterans to use Health Savings Accounts and to allow veterans to fill prescriptions written by third-party health care providers, would go a long way.”

The report suggests a more short-term policy solution should be increasing VA cooperation with Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs). “Partnering with VSOs would allow hotline operators to schedule local follow-up appointments days after a crisis, not months. Such cooperative efforts would also allow veterans access to free treatment during that first critical month, when most suicides occur,” said Villarreal.

Veterans Affairs Fails to Curb Suicide Epidemic,” National Center for Policy Analysis, June 2013 at http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ib122