In February of 2015, a year after IAVA launched the Campaign to Combat Suicide, IAVA and our partners celebrated the signing of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act into law.This was a huge success for the veteran community, but we also knew it was just the start of what would inevitably be a long fight to decrease suicide in our community.
Since the signing of the SAV Act into law, IAVA has continued to be a leading voice in the call to improve access to high quality, timely mental health care for service members, veterans and their families and to expand suicide prevention efforts. In February 2016, IAVA and Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) together called for the elevation of the VA Suicide Prevention Office within VA to give it the recognition and resourcing it needs to aggressively meet its mission to prevent suicide among veterans.
A month later, the VA announced it would meet that call to action. We supported and celebrated the passage of S. 2487, the Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, which requires the VA to assess the effectiveness of its suicide prevention programs to support women veterans. We also continue to support and call for the passage of H.R. 4683, the Fairness for Veterans Act, to ensure that veterans with Other than Honorable (OTH) discharges who might have suffered undiagnosed mental health injuries at their time of their discharge receive due consideration if they try to appeal that discharge status.
Through this time, we’ve continued to carry the message that mental health and suicide prevention is a priority for IAVA members, the veteran community and the nation, and we all play a role in how we talk about these issues to fight against the stigma of seeking help.
As we’ve done this work, the Clay Hunt SAV Act remain foremost in our minds, and we continue to work with VA to ensure that it’s implemented in a strategic, timely manner. We wanted to share with you the latest progress report. Overall, there has been steady progress on the implementation.
Evaluation of Mental Health/Suicide Prevention Programs
One of the most challenging provisions of the SAV Act, but also a very important one, was the requirement to fund an annual independent evaluation of VA mental health and suicide prevention programs. The VA has put aside the necessary funding to do this and hired a third party entity to start the process. We expect they’ll deliver a report to Congress that provides a preliminary report on this effort and IAVA is at the ready to review it and provide feedback once they do.
Recognizing that the VA has multiple websites that make it difficult for its users to connect to resources, the SAV Act called for VA to publish one central mental health resource. VA has developed a resource locator site that is meant to answer this call, and they are continuing to update the site to provide more user-friendly interactivity.
Reduction for Psychiatrists
The SAV Act requires VA to lead a three-year pilot program to allow loan repayments as an incentive to hire psychiatrists at VA. The first step in this process was a rule change in the federal register to allow this program to move forward. This was published two weeks ago. The VA has set aside funds for the program and they are now focusing on recruiting residents who are completing their training into this program.
Peer Support Programs
The legislation required to establish a community oriented peer support program for transitioning veterans with outreach teams for support. This is currently being piloted in five VISNS.
Finally, the SAV Act authorized VA to partner with community mental health programs to improve access to mental health care. This includes partnerships with community mental health clinics for access and community providers for telemental health delivery.