U.S. SENATE—U.S. Senator Martha McSally (R-AZ) this week introduced legislation to improve veteran suicide reporting submitted by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to Congress in order to better serve high-risk veteran populations.
This bill comes on the heels of a November U.S. Committee on Indian Affairs hearing where Senator McSally secured VA Secretary Robert Wilkie’s commitment to improve VA veteran suicide reporting and discontinue the use of ‘other’ to characterize Native American veterans.
“It’s unacceptable that our nation’s warriors are returning home from battle only to take their own lives,” McSally said. “We’re taking action to better understand this problem so we can send a lifeline to those who need it most. Arizona is home to one of the highest populations of Native American veterans and we know that this population is at higher risk for suicide, but our data is incomplete due to poor data collection. I’m holding the VA accountable to report proper statistics.”
McSally’s bill requires the VA to submit an annual report to Congress on suicide among veterans. While the VA has been submitting periodic reports to Congress related to veteran suicide statistics since 2016, this is not yet required by law. The bill also requires the VA to include a minimum amount of demographic information in veteran suicide reports submitted to Congress so that high-risk populations such female veterans and Native American veterans can be better served.
A study published by ASU just before Veterans Day noted that veterans in Arizona are over twice more likely to commit suicide compared to the rest of the state. The study also found that the female veteran suicide rate is three times the rate of non-veteran women.
On December 17, McSally announced that the Senate unanimously passed her bipartisan legislation to expand access to veteran treatment courts for veterans in need today.
On November 19, McSally urged Secretary Wilkie to prioritize patient care at the Phoenix VA and Northern Arizona VA hospitals while working diligently to find suitable, qualified directors.
On March 12, McSally and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) highlighted Arizona’s “Be Connected” program and pressed the VA on instituting meaningful action on veteran suicide.