A bombshell report published Monday by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) left millions of dollars unspent that were available for suicide prevention efforts this year.
The report found that the VA had $6.2 million available for suicide prevention paid media in the fiscal year 2018. The GAO found that the department had spent just $57,000 of that budget as of September.
The report also noted that the VA identified suicide prevention as its highest clinical priority in 2018.
The Hill reports:
The department’s use of social media for veterans suicide prevention outreach also dropped in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the report found. After developing 339 pieces of social media content for veterans suicide prevention in President Obama’s final year in office in 2016, the department posted 159 pieces of content in fiscal year 2017 and had made 47 posts in fiscal year 2018 as of July 2018.
Officials at the Veterans Health Administration, the health-care branch of the department, told the GAO that the drop off in suicide prevention media outreach was because of leadership turnover dating back to 2017.
In its report, the GAO urged the VA to develop an approach for overseeing its suicide prevention media outreach and develop metric targets for that outreach.
Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), the ranking member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, told the Military Times that the VA “has failed” to do enough to “inform the public about the resources available to veterans in crisis.”
“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,” Walz said. “Unfortunately, VA has failed to do that, despite claiming the elimination of veteran suicide as its highest clinical priority.”