Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray released the following statement after the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) released a study that provides more accurate information on veterans suicides. The two-year study incorporates information from 42 states and includes data on the suicide deaths of veterans who were not previously recorded because they had not sought care or benefits from VA. This is an important advancement that will help VA better understand veterans mental health needs and do more to combat the epidemic of veteran suicides. In August 2011 Senator Murray wrote to the National Governors Association urging Governors across the country to provide information to the VA to help them track the scope of veterans suicides.
"This data provides a fuller, more accurate, and sadly, an even more alarming picture of veteran suicide rates. And while I am encouraged that VA has worked to collect the information needed to better understand the problem we face, this must lead to action.
"I encourage VA and DoD to quickly implement the Mental Health ACCESS act that I recently pushed through Congress and that was signed into law this month. That law will help streamline and improve suicide prevention programs while offering veterans and their family's new avenues to mental health care.
"VA also needs to do more to quickly bring on additional mental health professionals to deal with the shortage veterans face, particularly in rural areas. We cannot accept as unavoidable that VA facilities have month-long wait times for appointments or that at-risk veterans feel that they have nowhere to turn.
"We also need to do more to reach out to the families of veterans so that they recognize warning signs, know where to go for help, and have a support network of other veterans and their families to lean on.
"This must not only be a top priority for the VA, it has to be a top priority for the nation as a whole if we are going to begin to make progress in reversing this deeply troubling trend."