Harkin, Feingold Introduce Veteran Suicide Tracking Bill

The Des Moines Register

April 22, 2008 – Washington, DC — U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the Veterans Administration to track veteran suicides.

Currently, the VA records suicides and suicide attempts in VA facilities, but does not track how many veterans commit suicide each year outside of those facilities.

VA records show that the number of veterans who kill themselves in VA facilities increased from 492 in 2000 to 790 in 2007.

A recent report by the Rand Corp. also shows that nearly 300,000 American military personnel returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.

Harkin and Feingold said that puts returning veterans at risk for suicide.

“We are looking at a real crisis among our veterans and it is high time the VA recognizes it,” Harkin said.

Feingold said the lack of data on veteran suicides shows how much needs to be done to address their mental health needs.

“With ongoing reports showing that service members are returning from combat with alarming rates of mental health problems, understanding and responding to these problems is critical in preventing death,” he said.

The Veterans Suicide Study Act would require the VA to report to Congress within 180 days how many veterans who committed suicide since Jan. 1, 1997, and continue to issue reports annually.

It is a companion bill to legislation introduced by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, in the House.

It also follows up on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Law, signed into law last year. It requires the VA to integrate mental health services into veterans’ primary care and increase counseling and other mental health services for veterans returning from war.

The law was named after Joshua Omvig, a soldier from Grundy Center, who committed suicide in December 2005 after he returned from Iraq.

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