Washington, D.C. (KTVF) - U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) are today celebrating the passage of the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act, a bipartisan, bicameral effort to help tackle one of the nation’s most pressing health concerns—veteran suicide. The senators’ legislation requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to report on the responsibilities, workload, training, and vacancy rates of Suicide Prevention Coordinators at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan spoke today about the passage of the Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act in congress. (Photo Courtesy of the office of Dan Sullivan)
Suicide Prevention Coordinators are specially-trained employees at VA medical centers who identify high-risk veterans and connect them with the care that they need. Across the nation, these VA professionals conduct outreach, promote awareness, and disseminate suicide prevention best practices. Due to the growing number of veterans seeking care, many Suicide Prevention Coordinators report being overworked and unable to keep up with their many responsibilities. The Support for Suicide Prevention Coordinators Act will provide necessary information that will help ensure the VA has the tools and resources it needs to provide veterans with critical mental health resources.
“It is a tragedy for our country that so many brave veterans, who sacrifice on behalf of all of us, feel as though they have no one to turn to when dealing with the unseen wounds of war,” said Senator Sullivan, a member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “In order to stem the crisis of veteran suicide, it’s important that the people who help them are given the support they need. The VA must have the skilled professionals available who are trained to recognize the warning signs of a veteran in crisis and able to connect a veteran with the numerous resources available to them before it is too late. Our legislation will compel the completion of a comprehensive look at how suicide prevention coordinators are serving the needs of veterans, and which additional resources they need in order to support veterans and defeat the ongoing crisis of veteran suicide.”
“Far too many of our country’s heroes return home from service suffering from invisible wounds of war,” said Senator Tester, ranking member of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee. “VA employees and suicide prevention professionals are our nation’s first line of defense when it comes to combatting veteran suicide. Our bill ensures a comprehensive approach to help connect veterans with the urgent, live-saving care they need, by identifying and addressing staffing needs for these vital frontline employees. I urge the President to sign this bill quickly into law, ensuring no veteran slips through the cracks.”
Senator Sullivan’s legislative efforts in support of veterans during the 116th Congress:
Creig Sharp Funeral Honors for Veterans Act: Inspired by Palmer resident Kathryn Sharp and her husband Creig Sharp, Navy Chief Petty Officer (Ret.), this legislation requires military installations to develop a plan to utilize both on-base and off-base resources for funeral ceremonies for veterans, even when government resources may not be available.
Medal of Honor Surviving Spouses Recognition Act: Inspired by Wasilla Vietnam veteran Dave Glenn, this legislation would extend the Medal of Honor (MOH) special pension to the surviving spouses of certain MOH recipients.
Veterans Preference Parity Act: Legislation that would reform outdated federal hiring rules to allow all retired service members and a greater number of National Guard and Reservists to qualify for veterans’ preference.
Veterans Member Business Loan Act: Legislation that would exclude business loans made to veterans from the statutory credit union member business loan cap. This will offer greater economic opportunities for veterans and will encourage veteran entrepreneurship across the country.
VA-DoD Shared Medical Facilities Act: Legislation to enhance collaboration and resource sharing between the VA and the Department of Defense (DoD), as well as other federal health care providers, furthering the access, continuity, and cost effectiveness of direct health care provided to veterans, service members, and their beneficiaries.
Highly Rural Veteran Transportation Program Extension Act: Legislation that extends the Highly Rural Veteran Transportation Program and allows the State Veterans Service Agencies and Veteran Service Organizations to continue to provide no-cost transportation services to VA or VA-authorized health care facilities to highly rural veterans.
Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act: Legislation that directs the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to review veteran deaths by suicide by requiring the VA to work with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine to study the link between addictive opioids and the alarmingly high rate of suicide among veterans.
Additional Legislative Victories for Veterans:
VA MISSION Act: Legislation to replace the Veterans Choice Program and streamline and strengthen VA community care programs to ensure veterans receive efficient, timely and quality care, signed by President Trump in June 2018. Additionally, the legislation expands eligibility for the VA’s Family Caregiver Program to veterans of all generations. Senator Sullivan’s amendments require the VA to cover a veteran’s care from community providers if the VA doesn’t operate a full-service facility in the state, like Alaska; require the VA to reimburse community providers at rates that could account for states with higher costs of care, like Alaska; and preserve Tribal Sharing Agreements, allowing veterans to access care in their community from Alaska Native tribal health providers. The legislation was signed into law by President Trump in December 2018.
Veterans Affairs Accountability Act: Legislation increasing the VA’s authority to remove employees at all levels who are ill-serving veterans. The bill also has safeguards for whistleblowers, and requires the VA to report on employee morale and the effectiveness of these new reforms. The legislation was signed into law by President Trump in June 2017.
Forever G.I. Bill: Legislation eliminating the 15-year G.I. Bill expiration date to use benefits. The bill makes updates to expand eligibility for reservists, Purple Heart recipients, veterans who faced school closures, and surviving family members. The legislation was signed into law by President Trump in August 2017.
Native Veterans Land Allotment Equity Act: Legislation that allows several thousand Alaska Native veterans who served during the Vietnam era to apply for their congressionally-promised Native land allotment after missing their initial opportunity due to their service. A version of Senator Sullivan’s act was included in a larger land and resource bill, signed by President Trump in March 2019.
Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act: Legislation to create a pilot program to modernize the outdated benefits claims appeals process at the VA and help veterans receive more timely decisions. The legislation was signed into law by President Trump in August 2017.