WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives passed a continuing resolution to fund the federal government through December 9th. The legislation, which now heads to President Obama’s desk, includes U.S. Congressman David N. Cicilline’s (D-RI) request for full federal funding to staff the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for all of Fiscal Year 2017.
“I’m pleased that, tonight, Congress provided full funding to ensure that veterans can always get critical mental health services through the Veterans Crisis Line,” said Cicilline. “Like all Americans, I was outraged when I learned that, in recent years, the Veterans Crisis Line had failed to provide veterans with the first-rate care they have earned. This federal funding honors the sacrifices of our brave men and women in uniform, and it will help ensure that no veteran is ever again forced to go without critical mental health services.”
Under the legislation passed tonight, Congress is appropriating $78.5 million in funding for Fiscal Year 2017 – a 40% increase over the amount provided in FY16. Cicilline led a bipartisan letter to the House Appropriations Committee last March requesting full funding to support operations at the VCL – a suicide crisis hotline established in 2007 to serve veterans and their families.
Cicilline’s request for robust funding came shortly after an Inspector General’s report revealed that nearly 1 in 5 of the 450,000 calls placed to the VCL in 2014 had been directed to a backup call center. During its investigation, the VA Inspector General concluded that callers did not always receive immediate assistance from VCL staff, despite guidelines that calls be answered no more than one-minute after they are placed. The report also raised questions regarding training for backup centers – in one case, staff was unaware that a voicemail system even existed for their call center.
According to an August 2010 fact sheet prepared by the Veterans Health Administration, roughly 20 percent of all suicides committed in the United States are veterans. The need for assistance has surged in recent years as veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have returned home. A study published last year in the Annals of Epidemiology found that the suicide rate for recent veterans was 50% higher than the civilian population. The VA estimates that as many as 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
The VCL was launched in July 2007 as a suicide crisis hotline to be used by veterans, their families, and military personnel. The VCL has answered more than 1.86 million calls and assisted in more than 50,000 life-saving rescues since that time. The Inspector General’s report makes clear, however, that more needs to be done to ensure veterans are able to immediately connect with VCL front line staff who are trained to intervene in a suicidal crisis.
During his time in Congress, Cicilline has been a strong advocate for Rhode Island’s more than 73,000 veterans. Last year, he co-sponsored the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which President Obama signed into law to expand services for veterans in mental health crisis. He has consistently supported funding to provide quality health care for veterans and ensure they have the resources they need when they re-enter civilian life.