By KEVIN DERBY
Veterans groups are rallying behind a proposal from a Florida congressman to study connections between veteran suicide and opioids.
At the start of the year, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., introduced the “Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act” which would have the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) “review the deaths of all veterans it treated who died by suicide or from a drug overdose in the last five years.”
The U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill on Tuesday and a host of veterans groups went to bat for it.
“The VFW supports the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act of 2019,” said Carlos Fuentes, the director of the Veterans of Foreign Wars’ (VFW) National Legislative Service. “[Buchanan’s bill] would make strides to reduce veteran suicide. Suicide is a serious issue. We must do whatever it takes to save the 20 veterans who take their own lives every day.”
“We are pleased to support the Veterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act… Increasing our understanding of veteran suicide, the risk and protective factors surrounding it, and the effectiveness of suicide prevention programs at VA, are all essential to tackling this issue,” said Stephanie Mullen, the research director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Joseph Chenelly, the national executive director of AMVETS, also praised Buchanan’s bill.
“Through this research, AMVETS believes the bill will help our society better understand the scope of veteran suicide and forces driving it,” Chenelly said. “Our hope is that the review will lead to more effective treatment methods in the VA and medical community at large.”
Buchanan weighed on in on Wednesday after the hearing.
“The high rates of suicide and drug overdose deaths among veterans are unacceptable. This legislation is critical to learning if prescription drugs, particularly opioid painkillers, are a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths of veterans. I am pleased to see this strong support from leading veteran service organizations,” Buchanan said.
“The suicide rate among veterans is about twice that of the general population, and has been rising among younger veterans who served during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to the VA, 20 veterans commit suicide every day, accounting for 18 percent of all U.S. suicides. Florida has the third-highest number of veterans in the country, with 1.5 million,” the congressman’s office noted.
Last month, from his perch on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, Buchanan applauded the Trump administration’s efforts but called for more funds for the VA’s National Suicide Prevention Program–something President Donald Trump is doing in his next budget proposal, adding an extra $70 million to help the problem.