Ernst Questions the VA on “Lackluster Performance” in Suicide Prevention Outreach

U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran, is calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide answers for the agency’s lackluster performance when it comes to suicide prevention outreach.

In a letter to VA Secretary Wilkie, Senator Ernst writes, “With approximately 20 veteran suicides every day in the United States, this lack of outreach is simply unacceptable…I am profoundly disappointed to learn that the VA has fallen short in fulfilling this responsibility. We can and must do better for our veterans.”

This letter follows a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing a decrease in suicide prevention outreach services at the VA. The outreach fell from 339 in 2016 to 157 in 2017, and through October 2018, there were only 47 outreach efforts. The VA was appropriated $1.7 million for suicide prevention outreach, but has only used around eight percent of their allotment.

Ernst asked Secretary Wilkie to respond to the following questions:

  • Do you agree with the GAO’s analysis? If so, do you have an explanation for why this lack of performance was able to continue?
  • Why did the VA not use the full appropriation it was provided?
  • Will the VA commit to increase its suicide prevention outreach efforts? What steps is it undertaking to do so?
  • What safeguards do you have in place to ensure that the program functions better in the future?