McSally, Sinema seek answers from VA secretary on veteran suicide issue
PHOENIX – Arizona’s U.S. senators want answers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs about what’s being done to combat suicide among veterans, a crisis that claims 20 lives a day nationally.
Republican Martha McSally and Democrat Kyrsten Sinema sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie on Tuesday laying out their concerns and asking five questions about the issue.
The letter also highlights Arizona’s efforts to combat the problem and offers the state as an example for others to follow.
“Important progress is being made in Arizona to combat veteran suicide through the ‘Be Connected’ program, and we believe more progress can be made if we replicate this program nationwide,” the letter says.
The senators’ letter requested answers to the following questions:
1. Since 70 percent of at-risk veterans who commit suicide are currently not seeking care at a VA facility, what is the VA doing to promote collaboration across federal, state, local, tribal, private, and non-profit organizations in both urban and rural veteran populations?
2. What guidance have you given local VA hospitals regarding collaboration with outside entities?
3. What is the VA doing to model Arizona’s “Be Connected” as a prototype for trans-organizational collaboration to address suicide?
4. In 2014, Arizona and the western states had some of the highest veteran suicide rates in the country, which were three times higher for veterans and five times higher for younger veterans. Does the VA’s data tell us why this is happening?
5. What does the VA do to collaborate with other federal partners like the Department of Defense and the Indian Health Services to prevent veteran suicides in the western states?
Wilkie told KTAR News 92.3 FM last week that a third of veterans in Arizona don’t receive VA services.
He was interviewed after President Donald Trump authorized a new task force to develop more ways to prevent veteran suicide.
The task force will ask for more federal funding to expand VA services, including telehealth video chats between veterans and mental health counselors.
Arizona’s senators also worked together last week when Sinema cosponsored a bill introduced by McSally that would expand access to federal courts in Arizona.
KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Peter Samore contributed to this report.