The Veteran Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act of 2019 (S 2991) would require the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to launch a study of all veterans who died by suicide or by a violent or accidental death within the five years preceding the enactment of the Bill. The review would be performed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), and include the following aspects:
- The number of veterans who died by violent and accidental deaths, as well as suicide;
- The demographic information of each veteran who died, including age, gender, race, and ethnicity;
- The diagnoses, treatments, and medications given to each covered veteran;
- The rates of diagnoses relating to combat-linked trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and traumatic brain injury;
- The quality of mental health care given to covered veterans, including the hiring and training of mental health professionals; and
- The sharing of data between the VA and State Medicaid agencies on veteran treatments.
No later than thirty days after the completion of the review, NASEM would be required to present their findings to the Congressional Committees on Veterans Affairs.
According to the VA’s most recent annual report on suicide prevention, preventing veteran suicides is the VA’s “top clinical priority.” In 2017, over 6000 US veterans died by suicide, a rate of 17 veterans per day. Although veterans constitute about 8% of the US population, they account for 14% of all suicides. The suicide rate for veterans is 1.5 times greater than that of nonveteran adults, and has been increasing steadily since the VA began collecting this data in 2005.
Veterans often present special mental health needs as a result of traumatic experiences during combat, with rates of PTSD between 11 and 30% of all returning soldiers, depending on service era. Suicide rates are not uniform among all veterans, with women, racial minorities, and veterans under 35 committing suicide at higher rates than other veterans. More than half of female veterans reported experiencing sexual harassment while in the military, with 23% reporting sexual assault. The VA has found that military sexual trauma is strongly associated with increased risk of suicide and substance use disorders.