Legislation Would Implement a Zero Suicide Initiative Pilot Program at Five VA Medical Centers Across the Country
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Jacky Rosen (D-NV) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced the re-introduction of their VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act. This bipartisan legislation would implement a Zero Suicide Initiative pilot program at five U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers across the country, including one that must serve primarily veterans who live in rural areas. Bipartisan companion legislation was introduced in the House by Representatives Susie Lee (D-NV), Tony Gonzales (R-TX), Colin Allred (D-TX), and Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH).
“Nevada’s veterans deserve to have all the support they need after sacrificing so much to serve our country, and that includes better access to critical mental health services,” said Senator Rosen. “With veteran suicide rates 50% higher than those for non-veteran adults, it’s urgent that we tackle this issue. Our bipartisan legislation will help VA medical centers implement a Zero Suicide framework that delivers comprehensive treatment and prevents veterans who are struggling from falling through the cracks.”
“We need to find ways to lower suicide rates among veterans and get the brave men and women who fought for our country help when they need it,” said Senator Cramer. “Our bill establishes a pilot program aimed at lowering suicide risk for VA patients and improving mental health, safety, and suicide care for veterans.”
“Every day in this country, seventeen veterans take their own lives – but even one is too much,” said Rep. Lee. “We need to do everything in our power to bring veteran deaths by suicide to zero. Of the 17 veteran deaths by suicide each day, on average, seven are among active VA patients. While we must ensure all our veterans are getting the mental health care and the resources they need, we must make a commitment to eliminating deaths by suicide among those within the VA system’s care. The Zero Suicide Initiative offers a proven, system-wide approach to close gaps, improve communication, and increase accountability within the VA, so that no veteran slips through the cracks. The goal is to expand this program to reach every veteran in America. For those men and women who put their lives on the line for our freedom, both Democrats and Republicans have to come together to support this bill. We all acknowledge that we owe each and every veteran all the resources they need to recover from the wounds of war – visible and invisible.”
“As a veteran, I know not all our injuries are physical. On average, we lose 17 veterans to suicide every day – and that’s 17 too many,” said Rep. Gonzales. “The VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Act works to bolster VA suicide prevention efforts and improves the way our VA system approaches mental health.”
“The Nevada Veterans Association is pleased to support this bipartisan legislation that places our VA centers in a position of action to create and expand Veteran suicide preventative measures,” said Donna Lee, President of the Nevada Veterans Association.
The VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Project Act is endorsed by key national and Nevada organizations, including the Student Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, International Society of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurses, American Psychiatric Association, Disabled American Veterans, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, The WestCare Foundation, American Association for Psychoanalysis in Clinical, Social Work, National Alliance on Mental Illness, Forgotten Not Gone, Women Veterans of Nevada, and Nevada Veterans Association.
The Zero Suicide framework is a way to improve suicide and mental health care within our health care systems. The base of the approach is the belief that suicide is preventable and that health care systems are critical in its prevention because suicide patients often receive services in the year leading up to their attempt or death. The Zero Suicide model takes a system-wide approach to mental and behavioral health services and aims to improve outcomes and close gaps in care. Zero Suicide recognizes that people experiencing suicidal thoughts often “fall through the cracks” and that there is an opportunity for our health care systems to prioritize the care they receive.
In 2019, the National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report found that an average of seventeen veterans die by suicide each day, six of which sought care from the VA prior to their death. The number of veterans lost to suicide is higher than the number of total U.S. servicemembers killed in military operations since 9/11.
The Zero Suicide model has seen enormous success, with some health care systems experiencing a 75% reduction rate in suicide among patients in the health care system, while generally the nation faced an increased rate of suicide. The Zero Suicide model is endorsed by numerous organizations, including the Joint Commission and the U.S. Surgeon General’s 2012 National Strategy for suicide prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funded implementation of the Zero Suicide model by numerous states, tribes, and health care systems across the country.