WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) is helping lead efforts to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) operation, oversight and evaluation of its suicide prevention media outreach campaigns.
Boozman is the lead Republican cosponsor of the Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Act.The bill, authored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), seeks to correct failures in VA’s suicide prevention outreach activities identified by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
“The VA has indicated that suicide prevention is its highest clinical priority and, with the alarming number of suicides in the veteran community, it absolutely must be. Congress is appropriating resources and the VA is turning that into action, but the numbers continue to trend in the wrong direction. This is why it is vital that we have metrics to measure the effectiveness of the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs. This bill will help Congress and the VA isolate meaningful suicide prevention programs so we can ensure resources are focused on efforts that save lives,” said Boozman.
“The Department of Veterans Affairs has a moral obligation to fight the scourge of veteran suicide with all the resources Congress has authorized, an obligation it is failing to meet with fatal consequences,” said Blumenthal.“VA must replace rhetoric with meaningful action and address the significant shortfalls in their suicide prevention media outreach campaigns. This bill provides an action plan to hold VA accountable for ensuring all veterans and their families are aware of the support services available during their time of need.”
In a 2018 report entitled Improvements Needed in Suicide Prevention Media Outreach Campaign Oversight and Evaluation, the GAO found that the VA had failed to establish targets to evaluate the efficacy of its campaigns, that leadership turnover led to a dramatic decline in media outreach activities and that the VA spent a fraction of its budget for suicide prevention media outreach during the last fiscal year.
The Reach Every Veteran in Crisis Actrequires that the VA:
- Establish targets—based on industry-standard metrics such as impressions and engagement rate—to evaluate the efficacy of its mental health and suicide prevention outreach campaigns;
- Create a process to oversee VA’s suicide prevention media outreach campaigns;
- Report to Congress on the expenditures and obligations of funds of the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention; and
- Ensure all future contracts regarding mental health and suicide prevention outreach include a clause that the contractor must track metrics established by the secretary and report these metrics to the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
Boozman previously included language in the FY19 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill that requires VA to develop metrics to evaluate the efficacy of all of its mental health and suicide prevention programs.