Lawmakers: VA needs to improve suicide prevention

Written By BY LYNN SWEET Washington bureau chief Posted: 08/12/2014, 12:42am

WASHINGTON — Most of the Veterans Affairs scandal impacts the living — vets who faced long waits for appointments while staffers cooked the books. On Thursday, lawmakers, including Rep. Tammy Duckworth D-Ill., focused on vets who committed suicide and the need for the VA to improve suicide prevention services.

Duckworth, a wounded Iraq war vet and a former VA official, Rep. Tim Walz D-Minn., and Rep. Jeff Miller R-Fl., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, in a bipartisan move, introduced a measure to bolster a package of VA mental health services.

The cross aisle front was a break in a day that ended with another strong shot of the bitter partisanship that is more characteristic of how the House operates.

Late Thursday, House Republican leaders who control the chamber released the draft of their resolution to authorize a lawsuit against President Barack Obama, intended to curb his use of executive authority. This comes as Obama this year has been stepping up signing executive actions in the wake of the House GOP leaders blocking votes on legislation.

There will be a hearing on the resolution on July 16. The legal challenge, according to House Speaker John Boehner, will be over Obama’s used of executive actions to change a part of the Affordable Care Act dealing with employer mandates. But the intent is broader. The House GOP is trying to erode a president’s ability to make moves without Congress.

The White House called it a “waste of time and taxpayer dollars on a political stunt.” Unfortunately, its approval in the House — with only GOP votes is a foregone conclusion.

That bright spot of bipartisan cooperation was over a serious and sad matter.

“With an average of 22 veterans committing suicide a day, we are failing them,” Duckworth said at a press conference outside the Capitol. “This legislation would provide accountability for the VA and DOD (Department of Defense) mental health care and suicide prevention programs. It would help make sure we are doing all that we can for those returning home from war.”

Earlier on Thursday, Miller’s Committee held a hearing on the problem titled, “Service should not lead to suicide: Access to VA’s mental health care.”

Miller said at the hearing that the steady stream of veteran suicides is part of the “horrible human costs of VA’s dysfunction, and I dare say, corruption.”

The hearing is part of the renewed focus on the VA in the wake of the appointment-scheduling scandal that forced the resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. Obama’s VA nominee, Robert McDonald, a former Procter & Gamble CEO and a graduate of West Point and the now closed Arlington High School in Arlington Heights, is awaiting confirmation.


And one more dab of bipartisanship to note, this one on a niche matter.

And one more dab of bipartisanship to note, this one on a niche matter.

Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., and his fellow physicist, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., won House approval to restore $300,000 in funding for the National Undergraduate Fellowship Program at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science. The fellows (who include a high rate of women in the program) study subjects such as fusion energy and plasma physics. Republicans approved because no extra money was being spent—the dollars were just reallocated from someplace else in the science office.


Twitter: @lynnsweet

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