Grassley Praises Final Passage of Veterans Crisis Line Improvement Bill
WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley today praised Senate passage of a bill he co-sponsored that will improve the responsiveness and performance of the Veterans Crisis Line, the confidential, toll-free hotline for veterans seeking suicide prevention and crisis resources help from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) responders.
“We’ve seen suicides of veterans in Iowa whose loved ones said they struggled to get help,” Grassley said. “This is unacceptable when an entire agency is dedicated to veterans’ care and is supposed to be available to offer timely help. This bill will help make sure the phone is answered and assistance is provided when veterans in need make the call.”
Grassley co-sponsored the Senate version of the No Veterans Crisis Line Call Should Go Unanswered Act, the companion to a bill from Rep. David Young of Iowa in the House of Representatives. The Senate last night passed the bill by unanimous consent, sending it to the President for consideration.
The bill creates a quality assurance process with performance indicators and objectives to address responsiveness and performance of the Veterans Crisis Line and backup call centers and a timeline noting when objectives will be reached. It requires the development of a plan to ensure any communication to the Veterans Crisis Line or backup call center is answered in a timely manner by someone in accordance with guidance from the American Association of Suicidology. It requires the Department of Veterans Affairs to submit the plan to the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs of both houses of Congress within 180 days of the legislation’s enactment.
Grassley said the bill is more necessary than ever. On Wednesday, he asked the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs to “conduct a thorough investigation” into the treatment of a Johnston veteran who committed suicide. U.S. Army veteran Curtis Gearhart reportedly was told he would have to wait five to six weeks for an appointment for severe headaches, which Grassley pointed out is well beyond the VA’s goal of 30 days for medical treatment.
Grassley noted that in August, he wrote to the inspector general about another Iowa veteran who committed suicide after he reportedly was denied treatment. The VA inspector general is reviewing the VA’s interactions with that veteran, Brandon Ketchum.
Grassley has worked to improve mental health services for veterans. He co-sponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, given unanimous Senate approval and signed into law. The legislation builds on the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, enacted in 2007. The Omvig Act, a bipartisan bill that Grassley co-sponsored as the lead Senate Republican, was named after an Iraq War veteran from Iowa who committed suicide in 2005. It sought to improve mental health services for veterans and reduce the incidence of suicide. He is an original co-sponsor of a pending bill from Sen. Joni Ernst to allow veterans to get mental health care from private physicians if the VA can’t see them when they need it. Grassley also co-sponsored the Female Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (S. 2487), introduced in response to the alarming increases in suicide among female veterans detailed in a recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) study.
After pressing the VA, Grassley received a commitment from the agency to improve the Veterans Choice program, meant to streamline medical care for veterans.