Alarmed by a new report that found gaps in the VA’s follow-up care of suicidal veterans discharged from Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facilities, U.S. Sen. Christopher Murphy is asking the VA to “act as quickly as possible” to reduce the risk of suicide. In a letter to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki — prompted by a Wednesday news story about the VA Office of Inspector General’s report — Murphy said he had “deep concern” about the findings of deficiencies in follow-up care for veterans who are discharged from inpatient mental health facilities. “As you know, suicide is now the leading cause of death among military personnel who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as many as 22 veterans take their own lives every day,” Murphy wrote. “Given this stark reality, the fact that the VA is not monitoring veterans who are at a high risk of suicide is not acceptable.”
Murphy requested that the VA provide him with a comprehensive overview of the improvements it plans to make to reduce suicide rates. He praised Shinseki for focusing on the “epidemic” of veteran suicides, but said the new report “suggests that we still have a lot more work to do.
Nearly a third of veterans deemed at high risk for suicide don’t receive the recommended follow-up care after they’ve been discharged from Veterans Health Administration inpatient mental health facilities, according to a new report from the VA inspector general. The report — which comes as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs grapples with a rise in suicides that claim an estimated 22 veterans’ lives a day — recommends that the VA take action to improve post-discharge follow-up for patients with acute mental health problems.
The VA requires its mental health clinicians to evaluate patients considered at high risk for suicide at least weekly for the 30 days after their discharge from Veterans Health Administration (VHA) mental health care. But of 215 patients whose medical records were examined by the inspector general’s office, 65, or 30 percent, did not receive all of their follow-up evaluations, the report shows. Records of 33 percent of the 215 patients did not contain documentation that a suicide-prevention coordinator or other case manager had made attempts at contact. “Although MH (mental health) providers scheduled follow-up appointments prior to patient discharge, timely post-discharge MH evaluations were not consistently provided,” the report says.