Weekly Columns

According to a 2022 Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) report, 17 veterans take their own life each day, on average. While the number has decreased for the past two years, even one suicide is too many. There is a lot of work to do to ensure our veterans get connected with resources to treat their mental health struggles and save lives.

Organizations across the country are creating programs to support men and women who struggle to get the mental health care they need. In recent days, Sheep Dog Impact Assistance, a Rogers, Arkansas-based organization that encourages veterans to live their best life through continued service-driven initiatives, celebrated the grand opening of its Heroes Ranch at Rush Springs, strengthening its mission to help our heroes in need. 

This site north of Bentonville will provide an environment for veterans to connect with nature, build relationships with others experiencing the same health challenges and foster camaraderie to ultimately demonstrate their life is worth living. 

Congress has taken action to support successful veteran-serving programs by allowing the VA to harness the efforts of non-profits and community organizations that have built effective suicide prevention programs and, just as important, measuring their effectiveness. I authored this law because we need a new strategy to help those living with the invisible wounds of war. 

This was a good first step and we’re continuing the momentum with a new legislative initiative to support a comprehensive approach to saving lives.

In March, I joined Senate Veterans Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-MT) to introduce the Not Just a Number Act, which would require the VA to develop a more complete picture of the factors contributing to veteran suicide.

This bipartisan bill would modernize how we reach and serve veterans who struggle to get the mental health care and support they need. It’s clear the VA needs to update and expand its data collection to examine the relationship between VA benefits and suicide outcomes as well as analyze which benefits have the greatest impact on preventing suicide.

Our goal is to help use the data to improve policies and programs which will ultimately translate into real-world success in preventing suicide.

Right now, the VA’s suicide statistics only incorporate veterans who had appointments at the department’s health facilities. Acknowledging suicide prevention goes beyond just mental health practices is key to solving this crisis. 

There are other root causes of suicide we need to be looking at such as food insecurity, lack of housing and financial strain. 

I shared that message with my colleagues and VA officials at a recent Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing. It was important to hear the VA agrees on the importance of understanding correlations between Veterans Benefit Association programs and clinical care that prevent veterans from taking their lives. 

Preventing veteran suicide is a top priority for me and the committee. I will continue working to pass the Not Just a Number Act to give hope to at-risk veterans and fulfill the promise we made to all those who have worn our nation’s uniform.