DALLAS - The Department of Veterans Affairs cut back on its efforts to combat veteran suicide this year and last year.
The VA estimates 20 former military members take their own lives each day in the United States. But a published report said in the last couple of years the department has reduced its efforts on suicide prevention outreach.
The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported on a study by the Government Accountability Office. It said since 2016, the VA has cut back on programs meant to help vets who are struggling with suicidal thoughts.
The VA reportedly has $6.2 million budgeted for suicide prevention outreach for the current fiscal year. But the department spent only a tiny fraction of that amount, less than 1 percent, by this past September.
The GAO said in both 2017 and 2018, the number of social media posts, public service announcements, billboards and radio and print ads aimed at reaching veterans and making them aware of the help that’s available has dropped sharply.
The VA blames “leadership vacancies” during the past couple of years as the reason for the downturn.
The department has said that preventing veteran suicides is its “top clinical priority.” It held community mental health summits in Dallas and across the country to try and improve the care offered to vets.
It’s estimated that 30 percent of veterans return home from Afghanistan or Iraq with emotional or behavioral problems.
The current VA Secretary Robert Wilkie responded to the GAO report by reasserting his commitment to suicide prevention outreach, vowing his department would not relent in efforts to connect with veterans in need of life-saving support.
That’s in line with what the GAO has recommended. It said the VA needs better oversight and evaluation of its activities related to suicide prevention and outreach.