July 24, 2020

Chairman Takano Applauds New Veteran Suicide Prevention, VA Police Reform Bills

New Legislation from Reps. Rice & Kelly will Increase Oversight of VA Police & Examine VA’s Solid Start Program

Press Contact

Jenni Geurink (Takano) I 202-819-4684

Stuart Malec (Rice) I 860-508-8554

James Lewis (Kelly) I 202-384-5987

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, House Committee of Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) announced his support for two new bills that align with the Committee’s comprehensive seven pillar approach to prevent veteran suicide. The VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act from Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-N.Y.) will provide much needed oversight of VA Police, mandate body cameras, and require key de-escalation training to help mitigate harm when interacting with veterans in crisis. The Solid Start Reporting Act from Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.), a former mental health counselor, and Rep. Brian Mast (R-Mich.) will examine the effectiveness of VA’s new Solid Start program that aims to support veterans as they transition to civilian life. By lessening harms, identifying and supporting at risk veterans, and promoting connectedness, both bills take real steps towards preventing veteran suicide. 

 

“With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic creating new stressors, we need to draw our focus even closer on veteran suicide prevention,” said Chairman Mark Takano. “These two new bills introduced by Rep. Rice and Rep. Kelly will help us do that by taking meaningful steps to address all the factors that can lead to veteran suicide from requiring key crisis intervention training for VA police to promoting connectedness throughout the transition from servicemember to civilian. We have a responsibility to ensure VA police have accountability, working body cameras, and the tools and training they need to de-escalate crises. We also need to ensure VA’s innovative Solid Start program is working and has sufficient oversight. I’m proud to support both of these bills that align with the Committee’s efforts to examine every angle, intersection, and factor that may lead to suicide.”

 

Last year, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing exposing the many issues with the current VA police policies and procedures after one of my constituents was horribly mistreated at the Northport VA,” said Rep. Kathleen Rice. “Major reforms are needed within the Department of Veterans Affairs police force, including the need for increased crisis intervention training for police officers to prevent suicide. The VA Police Improvement and Accountability Act will address these officer training shortcomings, require the use of body cameras, and enact other important measures that will increase accountability and transparency.” 

 

“I applaud the VA for working to develop a data-backed program to support veterans during the particularly challenging first transition year. We know that a simple conversation can be effective in providing support to struggling veterans and their families,” said Rep. Robin Kelly. “However, Congress must ensure that programs designed to address a real and growing crisis work. If not, how can we improve them? Providing for the mental health of servicemembers, veterans and their families is everyone’s responsibility and Congress will continue to do our part through funding and oversight.”

 

Background: After 3 suicides on VA campuses in just 5 days last April, Chairman Takano made suicide prevention the Committee’s number one legislative priority. In August, after a damning VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reportdetailing a veteran suicide within an inpatient unit of a VA hospital, Chairman Takano called for a VA-wide stand down to address this crisis and ensure all VA staff are fully trained; assess facility infrastructure; and identify gaps in policies, procedures and resources. Still, there is more work to be done--that’s why the Committee adopted a comprehensive 7 pillar framework this year to address every factor that leads to suicide itself. Building on this strategy, Chairman Takano introduced the Veterans ACCESS Act—meaningful legislation that would ensure all veterans-- regardless of discharge status or whether they receive care at VA hospitals -- have access to the emergent mental health care they need.

 

If you or a veteran you know are struggling, contact the Veteran Crisis Line 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1, or text 838255. For more information about the Committee’s efforts to address the COVID-19 crisis and resources available for veterans, please visit: https://veterans.house.gov/covid-19.

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