CHARLESTON — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill Friday aimed at getting more real-time data on veteran suicide to prevent more from occurring.
House Bill 2981 would require the Department of Veterans Affairs to develop a suicide prevention assistance program. As amended by the Health Committee on Monday, it would also require the medical examiner to inform a local VA medical center upon the determination of the cause and manner of death of a veteran who committed suicide. The VA can then determine if the veteran was being treated.
The Department of Veterans Affairs would conduct its own investigation into possible reasons as to why the veteran committed suicide and determine if a different prevention action could have been implemented. The data would contribute to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ registry of possible suicides and to prevent future suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs also would follow up with the family to learn if the veteran previously expressed suicidal thoughts and if other preventive action could have been taken.
The bill does not provide funding for the assistance program, but Health and Human Resources Committee chair Del. Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, said the department can facilitate the program with existing staff.
The latest data on veteran suicide from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is from 2018. With 64 reported suicide deaths that year, West Virginia’s rate was not significantly higher than the rest of the country, but the state overall has significantly higher rates of suicide.
According to the VA’s 2020 Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, the number of veterans who die by suicide has exceeded 6,000 every year since 2008. From 2005 to 2008, there was a 6% increase in veteran suicide despite there being a decrease in the number of veterans.
But in 2018, veteran suicide accounted for a lower proportion of suicide deaths overall. The report says the VA has been monitoring veteran suicide since the start of the pandemic, and it does not appear there has been an increase in patients seen at VA facilities.
HB 2981 now heads to the Senate for consideration.