The Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs and the Friends of VA Medical Care and Health Research (FOVA) coalition both held Sept. 27 events to examine how to prevent veteran suicide.
The Senate hearing, titled #BeThere: What More Can Be Done to Prevent Veteran Suicide?, featured testimony from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary David J. Shulkin, MD, accompanied by David Carroll, PhD, executive director, VA Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention. In his testimony, Dr. Shulkin reiterated that suicide prevention is a priority of the VA, and provided updates on the implementation of the Clay Hunt Act and programs such as Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health Veterans Enhanced Treatment (REACH VET), which uses data to predict veterans at higher risk of suicide. He also stated his goal to hire an additional 1,000 mental health providers at the VA, as well as expand graduate medical education and loan forgiveness in rural areas.
Other witnesses included John Daigh, Jr., MD, from the Office of Inspector General; Craig Bryan, PsyD, executive director, National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah; and Matthew Kuntz, executive director, the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana.
Following the hearing, FOVA hosted a congressional briefing titled The Science of Veteran Suicide: VA Research in Prevention and Intervention. Deputy Secretary of Veteran Affairs Tom Bowman provided opening remarks at the briefing, which included several VA researchers.
Lisa Brenner, PhD, director, Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Center, Rocky Mountain VA Medical Center, discussed the link between veterans, Traumatic Brain Injury, and suicide. Wilfred Pigeon, PhD, executive director, Center of Excellence for Suicide Prevention, Canandaigua VA Medical Center, presented his research on the role of sleep in veteran suicide and prevention. Steven Dobscha, MD, director, Center to improve Veterans’ Involvement in Care (CIVIC), Portland VA Medical Center, examined the use of primary care screenings and smartphone apps in veteran suicide prevention.