VA secretary vows to bring down veteran suicide rate
© Greg Nash

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin pledged to combat suicide among veterans in a pre-taped interview on Sunday, saying the current veterans suicide rate is “unacceptable.”

“The issue of veterans suicide is our number one clinical priority in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and it’s really the only clinical priority that I talk about as our major focus,” Shulkin told John Catsimatidis on AM 970 in New York on Sunday.

A 2014 VA study found that an average of 20 veterans a day commit suicide, and six out of every 20 veterans who commit suicide utilize VA services.

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“This is an unacceptable statistic that 20 veterans a day are taking their life to suicide. So we are going to do everything that we possibly can. We’re reaching out to community groups, to academic groups. We’re doing research in this area. We’re trying new therapies and treatments. And I certainly hope that we can have a big impact on this problem,” he continued.

“I can’t commit that I know exactly everything that’s going to work, but I can commit that we’re going to do everything possible to try to get that number down to zero,” he said.

The VA has been plagued by scandals recently, most notably in 2014 when long wait times for medical care at VA hospitals were reported, and employees attempted to cover them up.

President Trump signed a reform bill aimed at making it easier for the VA to fire employees who were accused of misconduct.

“Another area that we’re committed to changing is to really make sure our employees are held accountable for their actions and their behaviors. When they deviate from those accepted practices, we’re going to make sure the appropriate disciplinary actions are administered,” Shulkin said.