The Department of Veterans Affairs has been clear: Preventing suicide among the nation’s more than 20 million former service members is its top clinical priority. With a burgeoning suicide rate among veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the VA has dumped more than $24 million since 2013 into a national outreach campaign for at-risk veterans centered around a one-stop crisis hotline.
But that ambitious outreach initiative has faltered in recent years amid a leadership vacuum within the VA and unclear metrics for success, according to a report released this week by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. While the number of suicides among veterans was climbing steadily, the GAO found that the VA’s prevention efforts faltered without a permanent leader or clear chain of command in place.
“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, VA should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs panel, said in a statement to Stars and Stripes after the report’s publication Monday. “Unfortunately, VA has failed to do that, despite claiming the elimination of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.”