President Donald Trump marked the beginning of 2018 with an executive order focused on reducing the risk fo suicide among former service members, but the Department of Veterans Affairs spent precisely dick making the public aware of suicide prevention measures, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.
- Of the Veterans Health Administration's $6.2 million budget for paid media (guaranteed advertising spots, for example), the agency spent just over $57,000 as of September 2018 — less than 1%, per the GAO report.
- This wasn't the only failure of VA outreach efforts: According to the GAO report, "the amount of suicide prevention content developed by VHA’s contractor for social media decreased in fiscal years 2017 and the first 10 months of 2018 after increasing in each of the 4 prior years."
- As a result of its subpar media outreach efforts, the VHA "may not have exposed as many people in the community, such as veterans at risk for suicide, or their families and friends, to its suicide prevention outreach content," the authors write.
- Despite claims from the VA the suicide rate among veterans has decreased from the alarming 20-a-day statistic and that the agency "has made suicide prevention its top priority," the report suggests that VA has essentially whiffed by "not assigning key leadership responsibilities and clear lines of reporting."
- In response to the GAO report, the VHA acknowledged "organizational transitions and realignments within Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention contributed to unclear roles and responsibilities from mid-2017 to mid-2018" — basically, the VHA wasn't on top of its game for a year.
- "During former VA employee David Shulkin’s brief tenure as secretary, VA’s suicide prevention outreach dropped significantly, and the suicide prevention office had no permanent leader for nearly nine months," VA press secretary Curt Cashour told Task & Purpose in a statement. "Within weeks of his arrival at VA, then-Acting Secretary Wilkie appointed Dr. Keita Franklin as VA’s new suicide prevention director, and she is reviewing the spending for this important program as part of her duties."
- Lawmakers are pissed. “At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, VA should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Tim Walz, (D-Minn.), told Military Times. “Unfortunately, VA has failed to do that, despite claiming the elimination of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.”
Read the full GAO report below: