Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Calls for Action on His Bill to Combat Veteran Suicides

Nov 10, 2021
Press Release
17 Veterans Take Their Own Life Each Day, Nearly Double the Civilian Rate
Legislation Seeks to Examine Link Between Addictive Opioids & Veteran Suicides

WASHINGTON – Ahead of Veterans Day, Congressman Vern Buchanan today sent a letter to the leaders of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee urging consideration of his bipartisan legislation to investigate the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicides among veterans.

Buchanan’s Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 67) would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to review the deaths of all veterans it treated who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years. The new data generated by the bill will be used to better treat veterans suffering from both mental and physical injuries.

“The high rate of suicide and drug overdose deaths among veterans is unacceptable," Buchanan said. “This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in veteran suicides. I encourage my colleagues on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to pass this bill to further address these untimely deaths.”

According to the VA, at least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017 – nearly 17 per day. Veteran suicides account for nearly 15 percent of all suicides in the United States.

Joining Buchanan on the letter was Congressman Gerald Connolly, D-VA, the bill’s main Democratic co-sponsor. “It is clear we must do more to end this crisis and help reduce this needless and preventable loss of life,” said Buchanan and Connolly.

This legislation is endorsed by three Veterans Service Organizations: the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and AMVETS.

Understanding the impact of overmedication and veteran suicide begins with data,” said a representative for the VFW. “This legislation will help illuminate the seriousness and scope of this causation. Reducing the number of service members and veterans who die by suicide has been a priority for the VFW and will remain so until it is no longer needed. We must do whatever it takes to save the almost 20 service members and veterans who die by suicide every day.”

Earlier this year, a Buchanan measure passed the House to provide $2 million to the VA to study the link between veteran suicides and highly addictive opioids.

Buchanan has a strong record of fighting for veterans and military families. He is a past recipient of the VFW Legislative Achievement Award. Last Congress, a Buchanan measure to reduce military training accidents following the death of Bradenton soldier Nicolas Panipinto was enacted into law. In 2015, Buchanan’s bill allowing all veterans in America to receive an official identification card, the Veterans ID Card Act was signed into law. Buchanan also introduced an amendment enacted in 2007 to study the feasibility of a standard soldier-patient tracking system.

You can read the letter here or below.

Dear Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Bost,

We write today as the lead sponsors of H.R. 67, the Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, to request the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs take action on our bipartisan bill to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicide among veterans.

As you know, nearly 17 veterans die by suicide each day, a rate nearly twice as high as civilians. Due in part to this troubling statistic, we believe this bill is not only commonsense, but entirely necessary to help combat this tragic epidemic

Our legislation, endorsed by three of the nation’s major veterans service organizations, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to review the deaths of all veterans it treated who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years. This important new information will be used to better treat veterans suffering from both mental and physical injuries and is critical to learning if prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in suicide-related veteran deaths.

The VFW, which endorsed our legislation, stated that “[u]nderstanding the impact of overmedication and veteran suicide begins with data. This legislation will help illuminate the seriousness and scope of this causation. Reducing the number of service members and veterans who die by suicide has been a priority for the VFW and will remain so until it is no longer needed. We must do whatever it takes to save the almost 20 service members and veterans who die by suicide every day.”

According to a September 2019 VA report:

  • At least 60,000 veterans died by suicide between 2008 and 2017.
  • Veteran suicides account for about 15 percent of all suicides in the United States, with a veteran committing suicide every 72 minutes.
  • The VA has a history of freely prescribing opioid pain medication to veterans, reaching its highest level in 2012 with more than 438,000 long-term opioid patients.
  • Unfortunately, despite the VA taking steps to reduce the number of opioid prescriptions it dispenses by 70 percent between 2012 and 2020, veterans are still committing suicide at a startling rate.

Given the recent call by seven former VA secretaries to create a National Warrior Call Day to raise awareness about military and veteran suicides, and the fact that more than 93,000 Americans died from an overdose last year, it is clear we must do more to end this crisis and help reduce this needless and preventable loss of life.

Furthermore, earlier this year, the U.S. House passed legislation that included our bipartisan amendment to fund the review called for in our bill and to provide a report to Congress. Thank you for your service and commitment to our nation’s many veterans and I look forward to your prompt reply to this critically important issue.

Sincerely,

Vern Buchanan

Member of Congress

Gerald E. Connolly

Member of Congress

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