On World Suicide Prevention Day, Rep. Lee Urges Support for Bipartisan Suicide Prevention Bills

September 10, 2020
Press Release

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Washington, D.C. –  On World Suicide Prevention Day, members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs participated in a legislative hearing addressing 25 comprehensive suicide prevention bills. The committee addressed two of U.S. Rep. Susie Lee’s (Nev.-03) bipartisan bills: 

Rep. Lee addressed why her bill, the VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Act, is the bold initiative needed to reduce veteran deaths by suicide: 

“One veteran death by suicide a day is too much. Our goal must be to bring veteran deaths by suicide to zero, which is why I introduced the VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Act with my colleague, General Bergman. 

“Of the 20 veterans a day who take their life by suicide, only six of them are accessing the VA. While we have focused much of our suicide prevention work on trying to reach those 14 veterans who are not accessing VA resources, the Zero Suicide Initiative focuses on those six veteran patients within the VA system.  

“The Zero Suicide Initiative builds on the VA’s suicide prevention efforts by implementing more comprehensive, systems-focused Zero Suicide efforts in pilot programs at five VA medical centers, with one center serving primarily rural veterans.  

“This Initiative is based on the Henry Ford Behavioral Health model that pioneered and conceptualized ‘zero suicides’ as a goal and develop a care pathway to assess and modify suicide risk for patients with depression. The approach starts a new culture based on the premise that no suicide is fated.” 

Rep. Lee addressed her bill, the VA Telehealth Expansion Act, and the need to expand veterans’ telehealth services in communities like southern Nevada: 

“Quality telehealth services are vital for veterans to access quality health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for veterans in rural or medically underserved communities. We cannot let this pandemic compromise health care services for our veterans and servicemembers.  

“In my home state of Nevada, Southern Nevada Healthcare System uses VA Video Connect, which delivers care to Veterans in their homes via a computer, tablet, or smartphone.  

“On the week that southern Nevada started responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, their VA Video Connect encounters were 128. Fast forward to the week of July 19, they were providing 2,225 encounters to veterans in their homes via VA Video Connect. 

“Our bipartisan bill will make sure that local VA facilities have the capacity and the technology to provide telehealth services, and that veterans in all communities have access to the quality health services they’ve earned.” 

BACKGROUND:  

VA Zero Suicide Demonstration Act 

The Zero Suicide Initiative, a concept and program founded by the Henry Ford Health Care System, is a program built on the belief that all suicides are preventable through proper care, patient safety, and systems-focused efforts. This legislation would build on the VA’s strong suicide prevention efforts by implementing more comprehensive, systems-focused Zero Suicide efforts in pilot programs at five VA medical centers across the country. 

This legislation is a continuation of Rep. Lee’s efforts to end veteran suicide and improve veteran care overall. In August 2019, Rep. Lee introduced the bipartisan Leave No Veteran Behind Act with Republican Rep. Steve Watkins (Kan.-02), which would require the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to reach out to veterans with whom they have not had contact in two or more years, to ensure that every veteran is aware and has access to the comprehensive medical services provided by the VA. 

VA Telehealth Expansion Act 

The VA Telehealth Expansion Act seeks to close some of the gaps in access to VA telehealth care, by allowing VA to provide grants to outside partners creating and upgrading technology access points for veterans. Quality telehealth services are vital for veterans to access quality health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for veterans in rural or medically underserved communities.   

The grant program enacted under the VA Telehealth Expansion Act would be designed to give preference to VA entities that represent veterans in rural or highly rural areas or operate in a medically underserved community. 

Under the CARES Act, Congress appropriated over $2 billion to support VA information technology for the pandemic response. Due to this supplemental funding, VA was able to ship out more than 16,000 laptops and 7,500 iPhones to veterans in need. However, many veterans in rural and underserved communities, with limited access to broadband, are still having difficulty accessing reliable telehealth services through VA.   

Issues: