In the almost two years of the Trump administration, the rate of suicide by veterans soared. Each day, about 20 veterans end their lives. According to a report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), there’s been mismanagement in the millions allotted for suicide prevention.
For the fiscal year 2018, $6.2 million has been earmarked by Veterans Affairs (VA) solely to advertise its crisis hotline. This is a multi-platform effort that includes suicide prevention efforts online, on billboards, buses and trains and via local and national radio commercials. Through September, $57,000, less than 1 percent of those funds have been spent.
The Suicide Prevention Outreach Program was established in 2010, growing steadily, before dropping in 2017.
“At a time when 20 veterans a day still die by suicide, VA should be doing everything in its power to inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis,” Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) ranking member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said, in a statement. “Unfortunately, VA has failed to do that, despite claiming the elimination of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.”
Walz had requested a study on the crisis and said the report “conveys a deeply troubling level of incompetence on the part of the Trump Administration.”
Ironically, both VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and former VA Secretary David Shulkin listed suicide prevention as one of their main focuses for the department.
In this debacle, Wilkie is blaming Shulkin. His spokesman Curt Cashour said, “During former VA employee David Shulkin’s brief tenure as secretary, VA’s suicide prevention outreach dropped significantly, and the suicide prevention office had no permanent leader for nearly nine months.”
Shulkin served from February 2017 to March 2018, before he was fired.
Wilkie was appointed a new permanent director for suicide prevention, shortly after arriving as acting secretary in April, and he is “reviewing the spending for this important program,” Cashour stated.
From fiscal 2017 to fiscal 2018, social media content from VA officials on suicide prevention dropped by more than two-thirds. Two planned public service announcements were delayed. And, there were no outreach messages aired on television or radio for more than a year.