WASHINGTON— Today, in response to a recent report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), urging Secretary Eric K. Shinseki to immediately act to reduce suicide rates among our nation’s veterans. Suicide is the leading cause of death among service members who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, with as many as 22 veterans taking their lives each day. The OIG’s alarming report revealed that 30 percent of patients examined who were at risk of suicide did not receive follow-up care after being discharged from a Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facility. Additionally, the report highlighted the disturbing fact that while most veterans who attempt suicide after a mental health stay do so within the first week of being discharged, only 27 percent receive a follow-up evaluation within 48 hours of the discharge. An article on this report was published by the Connecticut Health Investigative Team yesterday, underlining the need for the VA to address veterans’ health problems in a more timely manner.
In his letter, Murphy requested that the VA provide him with a comprehensive overview of the improvements it plans to make to reduce suicide rates, and immediately implement policy that will protect veterans from suicide.
“We all share the goal of protecting those who have served, and these alarming rates of veterans who are turning to self-harm are totally and completely unacceptable,” said Murphy. “Every veteran suicide represents a collective failure of our nation to properly care for those who have borne the battle. I know we can do better, and I look forward to building on the great work you have already done, and continuing to make progress on this critical issue.”
The full text of Murphy’s letter is below:
Dear Secretary Shinseki,
I am writing with deep concern about a Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (OIG) report that outlines serious deficiencies in follow-up care after veterans are discharged from inpatient mental health facilities. As you know, suicide is now the leading cause of death among military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as many as 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Given this stark reality, the fact that the VA is not monitoring veterans who are at a high risk of suicide is not acceptable.
What is particularly alarming is that the VA recognizes that follow-up for these at-risk patients is needed to prevent veterans from harming themselves, yet these policies are not being adhered to. The report showed that 30% of the patients examined did not receive adequate follow-up after an inpatient stay. The report also notes that most veterans who attempt suicide after a mental health stay do so in the first week after being released. However, according to this report only 27% of patients received a follow-up evaluation within 48 hours of discharge.
We all share the goal of protecting those who have served, and these alarming rates of veterans who are turning to self-harm are totally and completely unacceptable. I know you have been personally committed to taking on the growing issue of veteran suicides, and I am grateful for your focus on this epidemic. Unfortunately, this report suggests that we still have a lot more work to do. I respectfully request that your office provide me with a comprehensive overview of the improvements you plan on making in the wake of this report, and I ask that you act as quickly as possible in implementing policies that will reduce suicide rates of our nation’s veterans. Every veteran suicide represents a collective failure of our nation to properly care for those who have borne the battle. I know we can do better, and I look forward to building on the great work you have already done, and continuing to make progress on this critical issue.
Christopher S. Murphy