Senators call on VA to help veterans struggling with mental health

Senators call on VA to help veterans struggling with mental health
© Greg Nash

A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) urging leaders there to help veterans who are struggling with their mental health following the end of the Afghanistan War.

“More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need,” the letter reads.

“We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the Department accelerate its efforts to provide resources – to veterans of these recent conflicts,” it added.

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The letter is led by Sens. Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanConservative group targeting Kelly, Hassan, Cortez Masto in multi-million-dollar ad blitz Biden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans Constant threats to government funding fail the American public MORE (D-N.H.), Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstSunday shows preview: Multiple states detect cases of the omicron variant Biden picks former Senate candidate Theresa Greenfield to Iowa's USDA post Biden has just 33 percent approval rating in Iowa poll MORE (R-Iowa), Bill CassidyBill CassidySunday shows preview: New COVID-19 variant emerges; supply chain issues and inflation persist Legislators look to expand health care access through telehealth, biosimilars Infrastructure deal is proof that Congress can still do good, bipartisan work MORE (R-La.), and Raphael WarnockRaphael WarnockThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown Georgia becomes ground zero for 2022 elections Maternal and child health legislation must be prioritized now MORE (D-Ga.). Thirty-one other senators signed the document. 

The letter notes suicide rates are highest among service members between the ages of 18 and 34 and that "the VA’s National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report repeatedly indicates that veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan, do not use Veterans Health Administration services aimed at decreasing suicidal ideation and suicide attempts."

The U.S.'s 20-year military mission in Afghanistan officially came to an end on Monday.

Although ending the conflict in the region was a popular decision, the Biden administration faced bipartisan condemnation for its handling of the withdrawal as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban and the U.S. scrambled to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies.

The military lost 13 service members when a suicide bomber made it to the gates of the airport.

“We ask that the VA develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services. This plan must proactively contact veterans in the coming months through means including, but not be limited to: digital correspondence, social media, phone calls, and text messages,” the letter says.

“Furthermore, VA's outreach should consist of detailed information on clinical mental health services and community-based support systems, such as Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and VA Vet Centers,” it added. 

After the fall of Kabul, the Department of Veterans Affairs saw an uptick in calls to the crisis hotline.