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The Journal Gazette

Tuesday, December 05, 2017 1:00 am

Senate gets own version of Banks' VA hotline bill

Introduced by Donnelly, Young

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

Indiana's U.S. senators have introduced companion legislation to a House-approved bill that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to measure the effectiveness of its toll-free hotline for military veterans.

Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., announced Monday they had filed a Senate version of the Veterans Crisis Line Study Act, which was introduced in October by Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, and passed in November by a unanimous vote in the House.

Companion bills are similar or identical proposals introduced to improve the chances that the legislation will be considered by both houses of Congress at the same time.

The legislation sponsored by Banks, Young and Donnelly would require VA to assess the efficacy of its hotline for leading veterans to mental health services. Among other things, the five-year study would gauge how effective the Veterans Crisis Line is at preventing suicides and suicide attempts, and whether referrals to mental health care affect the risk of suicide.

VA data show that 7,388 veterans, including 136 in Indiana, killed themselves in 2014. VA has reported that the risk of suicide is 22 percent higher among veterans than for U.S. civilian adults.

Young said Monday in a statement that the Veterans Crisis Line “is a critical tool that can help save lives. Like all government programs, we must continue to rigorously evaluate its effectiveness and ensure our veterans are receiving the care they need.”

Donnelly said in a statement: “We continue to lose too many of our veterans to suicide each year. These are men and women who have served our nation, and we must ensure the Veterans Crisis Line is accessible and working efficiently.”

According to VA, the Veterans Crisis Line has answered nearly 2.8 million calls since its 2007 launch and initiated the dispatch of emergency services nearly 74,000 times.