On Tuesday, March 25, 2014, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs (VA) held a hearing to discuss the fiscal year 2015 budget. Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mark Kirk (R-IL) received testimony from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and various undersecretaries including Dr. Robert Petzel, VA Undersecretary for Health.
Secretary Shinseki stated that mental health funding is up 61% over past 6 budget cycles and the growing importance of VA tele-mental health, which has been used 800,000 times since its inception provides easy access for mental health support and treatment for veterans in rural or isolated areas.
Secretary Shinseki also described different initiatives that VA is undertaking the Veterans Crisis Hotline that has received 900,000 calls since its 2007 inception and 30,000 successful rescues.
AFSP would notably like to thank Senators Mark Begich (D-AK), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Hoeven (R-ND), and Tom Udall (D-NM) for raising the issue of suicide prevention with Secretary Shinseki. The senators raised a variety of important issues ranging from drug take-back programs to mental health access for veterans in isolated rural areas; showing a depth of understanding regarding the obstacles still impeding suicide prevention efforts among veterans.
AFSP commends the VA along with senate members for taking steps to reduce suicide among the veteran population and is committed to further collaboration to improve mental health access, quality, and care to prevent suicide among this high at risk population.