WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley today 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.
“Working to end the suicide epidemic among our veteran population should be an urgent priority,” Grassley wrote to Inspector General Michael Missal. “Accordingly, please conduct a thorough investigation into facts and circumstances surrounding the death of Mr. Gearhart. Please respond by November 30, 2016, and inform me whether you have decided to open an inquiry into the matter. If not, please explain why not. If an inquiry is opened, I further request that you provide updates on its status, when appropriate.”
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.
Grassley’s letter today is available here.