Senate committee advances bill to combat veteran suicide epidemic

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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Despite a rising awareness and public and private efforts to help, veterans die by suicide every day. 

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee advanced legislation Wednesday that would further expand access to mental health services for them. 

“Since I’ve been in the Senate, 2010, we still have about 20 a day,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-AR. “Just this month in Arkansas alone, a veteran of the National Guard, along with two current National Guard members and a member of the Army Reserve, took their own lives. Our approach simply isn’t working.” 

Over the past decade, Congress has increased funding for mental health and suicide prevention at the VA. But the department says of the 20 veteran suicides each day, most received no treatment or care from the VA. 

That’s why lawmakers want to connect veterans with thousands of other organizations available to them. 

“It will ensure that no veteran slips through the cracks,” said Sen. Jon Tester, D-MT. 

Tester has worked across party lines with Boozman on legislation to fund suicide prevention and emergency care through VA grants to nonprofits and community programs. 

“It would send an important message not only to the veterans but also to the American public that we can come together during politically turbulent times to do what’s right,” Tester said. 

Amid the partisan impeachment trial, the committee prided itself on unanimously approving the comprehensive bill. 

The new committee chair, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-KS, said expanding access to veteran mental health services is his top priority. 

“In every way we can, we take the veteran where he or she is in life and try to make their life better, allowing them to pursue their dreams the way they’ve allowed the rest of us in our country to pursue our dreams,” Moran said. 

The legislation now moves to the full Senate. 

It would also make telehealth services more available to veterans who need help. 

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