Government Relations Update

Recent reports issued by the Department of Defense (DoD) reveal seriously troubling increases in the rates of suicide among service members in the Army and Marine Corps.

The statistics compiled by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suggest that an average of 18 veterans will die by suicide on any given day. These troubling data have led to increasing calls from policymakers to redouble efforts to address this epidemic of military and veteran suicides.

A meeting with members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee focused on innovative strategies for reducing suicide risk in military service members and veterans. From left to right: Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), Rep. Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.), Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Dr. Janet Kemp, Dr. Craig Bryan, Dr. David A. Jobes and Dr. M. David Rudd. (credit: Lloyd Wolf)To draw more attention to the problem, APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office teamed with the University of Utah's National Center for Veterans Studies (NCVS) to co-host three days of events in Washington, DC, focused on reducing suicide risk in military and veteran populations. The Sept. 12 – 14 summit included two congressional briefings where psychologists spoke with key lawmakers on effective strategies for reducing suicide risk in this population.

"It's important for APA and psychology to remain front and center on this critical issue," said Diane Elmore, PhD, MPH, Associate Executive Director of APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office and coordinator of APA's activities on military and veterans issues. "APA members are making noteworthy advances toward understanding this very real problem facing many of our service members and veterans. The recommendations generated from these collaborative events can help psychologists and other mental health professionals in reducing suicide risk among our nation's warriors."

At the first congressional event — a roundtable with members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee members — APA and other experts spoke about current initiatives and needed resources with a bipartisan group of members of Congress: Reps. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.), Michael Michaud (D-Maine), Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.).

The panel — moderated by APA member M. David Rudd, PhD, National Science Director of the NCVS and Dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Science at the University of Utah — included APA members David Jobes, PhD, the Catholic University of America, and Craig Bryan, PsyD, University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio. Rounding out the panel was Janet Kemp, RN, PhD, National Director of the VA's Suicide Prevention Program, who gave an overview of some of the department's initiatives to address suicide among veterans.

The second Capitol Hill event was an afternoon briefing in the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing room for Capitol Hill staff, government officials and the general public entitled "Reducing Suicide Risk in Military Service Members and Veterans."

Honoring a hero: Dr. M. David Rudd, Heather O’Beirne Kelly, Medal of Honor recipient Staff Sgt. Salvatore “Sal” Giunta, Dr. Melba J.T. Vasquez and Dr. Diane Elmore at a reception and dinner honoring Giunta. (credit: Lloyd Wolf)The APA/NCVS summit also featured a reception and dinner in honor of Staff Sgt. Salvatore "Sal" Giunta, the first living recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in Iraq or Afghanistan. Before nearly 60 invited guests representing the DoD, the VA, academia, the private sector and policymakers, Giunta was presented with an APA Presidential Citation by APA President Melba J.T. Vasquez, PhD.

In his remarks, Giunta emphasized that his bravery was a product of both excellent military training and the opportunity to train and serve with exemplary people.

The summit also included a meeting of national experts who were charged with identifying best practices for the clinical management of suicide risk with military service members and veterans. Members of the group included top researchers and clinicians specializing in suicide prevention, as well as veterans of various American wars, who discussed their experiences re-entering society after their service. "I was particularly pleased that we were able to gather a group of experts across DoD, VA and the private sector," said Rudd. "Collaboration is critical to identifying best practices and making specific recommendations to guide clinical practice."

The group will continue to collaborate and plans to meet again in the next few months, with the goal of developing a set of clinical recommendations for assessing and managing suicide risk.

"This best practices meeting provided an incredible opportunity to engage many of the leading experts on this vital issue,"said APA's Chief Executive Officer Norman B. Anderson, PhD. "The University of Utah's National Center for Veterans Studies is to be commended for their national leadership in this area and for their much valued partnership with APA."

The meeting was made possible by a grant to the University of Utah from O.co, also known as Overstock.com.


Ben Vonachen is a senior legislative assistant in APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office.