Congressman Vern Buchanan

Representing the 16th District of Florida

Buchanan Slams VA for “Shocking” Neglect of Suicidal Vets

Dec 19, 2018
Press Release

Agency Fails to Spend Millions Allocated for Suicide Prevention

Congressman Demands Answers from VA Secretary

WASHINGTON – Congressman Vern Buchanan today demanded answers from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Robert Wilkie after a government watchdog reported that the agency failed to spend millions of dollars allocated for suicide prevention efforts in 2018.

In his letter to Secretary Wilkie, Buchanan cited a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that said “of the $6.2 million set aside for suicide prevention outreach in 2018, [his] department somehow only managed to spend $57,000, or less than 1 percent of the total funding allocated for this purpose. Furthermore, social media outreach on behalf of the VA regarding suicide prevention sharply declined by more than two-thirds compared to last year and zero public outreach messages were aired nationally for over a year.”  

Buchanan’s letter called the findings, “unacceptable and disgraceful to the millions of veterans nationwide who put their lives on the line protecting our freedom.”  

His letter further stated that reducing the veteran suicide rate is one of his top priorities and that he will be introducing legislation in Congress to address these problems as soon as possible.

“In the meantime, however, [Buchanan] respectfully request[s] a written response before the 116th Congress commences on January 3rd, 2019 as to how these failures were allowed to take place and what [Secretary Wilkie] will be doing going forward to ensure that they do not occur again on [his] watch.”

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Secretary Wilkie,

I am writing to you today in the wake of a shocking new report which revealed that the Dept. of Veterans Affairs (VA) has failed to spend millions of dollars specifically allocated by Congress for veteran suicide prevention outreach.

As you are undoubtedly aware, an astonishing 20 veterans a day commit suicide, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides nationwide. Among veterans younger than 35, the number of suicides has increased dramatically in recent years. These statistics are not only heartbreaking; they are downright inexcusable.

And while I commend you for citing suicide prevention as one of your top priorities for the department, a recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) clearly indicates that much more needs to be done.

According to the GAO, of the $6.2 million set aside for suicide prevention outreach in 2018, your department somehow only managed to spend $57,000, or less than 1 percent of the total funding allocated for this purpose. Furthermore, social media outreach on behalf of the VA regarding suicide prevention sharply declined by more than two-thirds compared to last year and zero public outreach messages were aired nationally for over a year.  

Of the 20 veterans who commit suicide on a daily basis, it is estimated that 14 of those individuals have had little or no contact with the VA in the months preceding their death. This demonstrates that the VA must dramatically improve its outreach to those veterans who are not taking advantage of the department’s mental health services and exactly why Congress allocated funds for this purpose.

This is unacceptable and disgraceful to the millions of veterans nationwide who put their lives on the line protecting our freedom.  

The VA’s primary duty is to provide the best care possible to the men and women who served our country. However, too often the VA has failed in its responsibility to treat our nation's veterans with the respect they deserve and provide them with the care they need.

At a time when a veteran commits suicide every 72 minutes in the United States, we need to do everything in our power to combat this tragic epidemic. That means spending every dollar allocated to your department for this very purpose. Earlier this year, with my strong support, Congress provided the VA with its largest budget in history, including over $200 million for suicide prevention efforts.

Please know that reducing the veteran suicide rate is one of my top priorities and that I will be introducing legislation in Congress to address these problems as soon as possible.

In the meantime, however, I respectfully request a written response before the 116th Congress commences on January 3rd, 2019 as to how these failures were allowed to take place and what you will be doing going forward to ensure that they do not occur again on your watch.

Thank you for your commitment and service to our veterans and I look forward to your prompt response on this important matter.

Sincerely,

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