Just before Veterans Day, the Senate passed legislation aimed at improving mental health care and services for veterans and troops, sending them to the president’s desk for final approval.
The package of bills, the Veterans Comprehensive Prevention, Access to Care and Treatment (COMPACT) Act includes nine parts intended to help prevent veteran suicides.
The latest VA veteran suicide data report from 2019 found that on average, about 17 veterans died by suicide per day in 2017. The data typically is delayed by about two years, making it difficult to determine whether efforts have made a significant difference year over year. More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide each year from 2008 to 2017, according to previous reports.
Since that data lags behind by about two years, advocates and lawmakers worry they won’t have a concrete grasp of how the pandemic has affected suicide rates for veterans—but they agree that the isolation and stress caused by the turmoil spreading alongside the virus likely won’t improve things and that veterans, troops and their families need more help now than ever.
Specifically, the COMPACT Act would:
- Provide free crisis care for any veteran with emergency suicide symptoms;
- Create a pilot program between VA and designated family or friends of veterans to share information on benefits and assistance;
- Require an annual report on VA’s Solid Start program;
- Establish an education program for veteran families and caregivers on mental health concerns;
- Create an interagency task force on outdoor recreation for veterans;
- Establish a policy where veterans who have not had contact with VA in two or more years are encouraged to come in for an exam to continue eligibility for emergency care not linked to their service-connected disabilities;
- Require annual VA police de-escalation and crisis intervention training;
- Require a study of VA programs providing assistance to women veterans who are homeless;
- Provide a report on locations where women veterans are using VA health care.
For more information on potential warning signs of suicide, click here.