Lawmaker introduces bill mandating transparency
Alarmed by the tragic trend of military veterans committing suicide inside Veterans Administration facilities across the country, U.S. Rep. Max Rose said he is introducing legislation to require the federal government to be more forthcoming with information about incidents involving people taking their own lives.
Rose’s bill would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to notify Congress of a suicide or attempted suicide in one of its facilities no later than seven days after the incident. The legislation would mandate that the VA provide Congress with information on the veteran no more than 60 days following the incident.
Under the bill, the information would have to include:
- The enrollment status of the veteran with the Department of Veterans Affairs;
- The most recent encounter between the veteran and any employee or facility of the Veterans Administration before the suicide or attempted suicide occurred;
- Whether the veteran had private medical insurance;
- The time period in which the veteran served in the military;
- The age, marital, employment and housing status of the veteran.
The statistics on veteran suicide are shocking, according to the Military Times, which reported that 23 veterans have killed themselves in VA medical centers over the past 18 months.
Rose, a Democrat who represents Southwest Brooklyn and Staten Island, is a military veteran and earned a Purple Heart in the war in Afghanistan. He serves on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
“It’s imperative that we receive not only basic information from the VA, but substantive data on this rising trend of veterans committing suicide at VA facilities,” Rose said in a statement. “Getting this data more quickly and thoroughly would guide Congress’ efforts in understanding this crisis, and preventing these tragedies. We must ensure all veterans have the services they need when they need them, plain and simple.”
Obtaining information in a timely fashion would help Congress get a better understanding of the scope of the veteran suicide crisis, according to Rose.
U.S. Rep. Mark Takano, chairperson of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, called the high rate of veteran suicide a national public health crisis and said his committee will make addressing the situation a top priority. Takano is a Democrat who represents Riverside, California.
“Congress can help develop a response to these tragedies, but we have to know what’s happening. I’m proud to support this bill to ensure Congress gets the data it needs as quickly as possible so we can work together to prevent these incidents and give veterans in crisis the support they desperately need,” Takano stated.
Susan Carter, a spokesperson for the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, said the agency has not taken a position on Rose’s bill. “But the department is transparent about suicides and suicide attempts, which studies have shown occur less frequently on VA campuses than on non-VA campuses,” she told this newspaper in an email.
Under current regulations, the VA notifies the staff directors of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans Affairs whenever there is a suicide on a VA campus “and strives to do so within 24 hours of a confirmed incident,” Carter said.
The number of veteran suicides decreased between 2015 and 2016, according to the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.
Since 2017, there have been 206 attempted suicides on VA campuses, 240 of which were interrupted, officials said.
Suicide prevention is a top priority of the Dept. of Veterans Affairs, according to officials.
Any time an unexpected death occurs at a VA facility, the department conducts a comprehensive review of the case to see if changes in policies and procedures are warranted, Carter said.