The evening before Veterans Day, the Senate passed more legislation aimed at improving mental health care and services for veterans and troops, sending them to the president's desk for final approval.
The latest VA veteran suicide data report from 2019 found that on average, about 17 veterans died by suicide per day in 2017. That number has remained stagnate or worsened in recent years despite increased spending and programs aimed at helping. The data typically is delayed by about two years, making it difficult to determine whether efforts have made a significant difference year over year. More than 6,000 veterans died by suicide each year from 2008 to 2017, according to previous reports.
Since that data lags behind by about two years, advocates and lawmakers worry they won't have a concrete grasp of how the pandemic has affected suicide rates for veterans -- but they agree that the isolation and stress caused by the turmoil spreading alongside the virus likely won't improve things and that veterans, troops and their families need more help now than ever.
The president signed the bill into law on Oct. 17, a little less than a month after Congress passed the Cmdr. John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act out of both chambers unanimously. That bill has been one of Veterans Affairs lawmakers' top priorities and originated in the Senate.
The COMPACT Act originated in the House and passed the Senate Tuesday evening just ahead of the national holiday.
“As long as 17 veterans, National Guard members, and reservists die by suicide each day, our work will not be done—but today we made real progress in the fight to reduce veteran suicide,” House Veterans Affairs Chairman Mark Takano, D-California, said in a statement Tuesday. "Our bipartisan, bicameral bill helps address gaps in prevention and care for veterans who are at heightened risk for suicide like women veterans, those who recently separated from military service, and veterans who haven’t used VA healthcare recently. It also includes my bill, the Veterans ACCESS Act, to ensure that no veteran experiencing an emergency mental health crisis has to worry about cost when seeking the care they need. "
Ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tennessee, who plans to retire at the end of this session, said the bill package "builds on the provisions" of the Hannon Act "to ensure veterans and their families receive the support, care and services they need to live full, healthy lives following their brave service."