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David Jolly proposes look at link between veteran suicides, their medical treatments

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The issue of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars committing suicide has been a national tragedy for over a decade, and David Jolly says it’s time to get more information on why it’s happening.

The Pinellas County congressman said Wednesday he’s introduced legislation requiring the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to conduct a review of veteran suicide deaths during the past five years.  The legislation would study the medications prescribed to veterans at the time of their death by suicide.

“It is critical that we understand whether there is any impact of certain psychiatric drugs prescribed for issues like P.T.S.D., depression or traumatic brain injuries, on the decision of a veteran to take their own life,” Jolly said. “With veterans dying by suicide at a heartbreaking rate, we need to take a hard look at all possible factors in order to help prevent these tragedies.”

If passed, it would be yet another step that Congress has taken to address the issue of veteran suicides.

A year ago, President Barack Obama signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which called for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a one-stop website to serve as a source of information for VA mental health services, address a shortage of mental health care experts by allowing VA to recruit them through a student loan repayment pilot program, expand how long veterans can seek mental health care services at VA to better address conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It also called for an evaluation of all VA mental health care and suicide prevent practices to determine what is working and make recommendations on what is not and for the department to establish a new peer support pilot program designed to help service members who are leaving the military access VA mental health care services.

Last December, Congress passed a bill requiring the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to study the long-term effects of combat on the mental health of veterans. The amendment required the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments, which oversee active-duty troops and veterans, to use an independent research team to research what it called “the impact of participation in combat during service in the armed forces on suicides and other mental health issues among veterans.”

Jolly’s bill, called the Veteran Suicide Prevention Act, would require the VA to record the total number of veterans who have died by suicide during the past five years, compile a comprehensive list of the medications prescribed to and found in the systems of such veterans at the time of their deaths, and report which Veterans Health Administration facilities have disproportionately high rates of psychiatric drug prescription and suicide among veterans treated at those facilities.  The VA would then be required to submit to Congress a publicly available report on the results of their review, along with their plan of action for improving the safety and well-being of veterans.

The bill has 3 co-sponsors, including two Democrats: Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard and Nevada’s Dina Titus.

“Data suggests that every 65 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life. This is unacceptable. One way to address the problem is to determine if any associations exist between suicide and medical treatments our veterans may be receiving for service-related conditions. Accordingly, this bill is a prudent first step in ending this crisis and letting our troops know that when they come home they are not alone,” said Titus, an original co-sponsor of the bill.

Although it has been often said that there are 22 military suicides a day, a study funded by the Army and released in 2015 shows the suicide rate for veterans who served in recent wars is much lower than 22 a day.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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