The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act complements VA’s on-going, multi-faceted efforts to improve mental health care for our nation’s Veterans, and I’m pleased that both houses of Congress came together to pass the SAV Act. I’m proud to stand with President Obama on Thursday as he signs this important legislation.
The health and well-being of the courageous men and women who have served in uniform is VA’s highest priority. And we’re working hard to provide timely access to the highest quality recovery-oriented mental health care that anticipates and responds to Veterans’ needs and supports their reintegration back into their communities.
We know that a growing number of Veterans are seeking mental health care, and VA has deployed significant resources and increases in staff toward mental health services. VA provides a continuum of forward-looking outpatient, residential, and inpatient mental health services across the country. We have many entry points for care: through our medical centers, more than 800 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers that provide readjustment counseling, the Veterans Crisis Line, VA staff on college and university campuses, and other outreach efforts. VA offers expanded access to mental health services with longer clinic hours, telemental heath capability to deliver services, and standards that mandate rapid access to mental health services.
While we know that the suicide rate is lower for those Veterans who use VA health care, losing just one Veteran to suicide is one too many. So, VA will continue to develop and improve mental health and suicide prevention services so that Veterans who reach out for help receive that help when and where they need it.
Last August, President Obama announced 19 executive actions to improve access to mental health services for service members, veterans, and their families – building on progress made since the President’s 2012 Executive Order and myriad steps VA has taken over the past 6 years to improve mental health services.
For example, following the 2012 Executive Order, VA increased its mental health staffing, expanded the capacity of the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and www.VeteransCrisisLine.Net), enhanced its partnerships with community mental health providers, and increased suicide prevention awareness efforts.
In addition, under the President’s 19 executive actions announced last August, we are working to improve service members’ transition from DOD to VA, both to ensure that service members receiving mental health care are connected to mental health professionals as they transition to VA and that their mental health medications follow them from DOD to VA. We are also working to improve care coordination between VA and DoD and strengthen community resources for those with mental health issues. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans Act will help us to build on this critical work to provide the care and services veterans have earned.
Sgt. Clay Hunt’s death was a tragedy. Together with the President, Congress, Veterans Service Organizations, and both profit and non-profit community partners, we will continue working to make monumental, historic strides to improve mental health care for those who have borne the battle.