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GAO: VA suicide prevention teams need evaluation amid caseload growth, burnout

A Government Accountability Office released on Monday called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to better evaluate its suicide prevention teams. Photo courtesy of Department of Veterans Affairs
A Government Accountability Office released on Monday called on the Department of Veterans Affairs to better evaluate its suicide prevention teams. Photo courtesy of Department of Veterans Affairs

April 5 (UPI) -- The Veterans Affairs Department must evaluate suicide prevention teams' staffing and workloads to improve suicide prevention efforts, a report on Monday said.

The 29-page report by the Government Accountability Office noted the rise in demand for mental health services from the Veterans Health Administration, but added that the VA is not aware of how the increase in caseload is affecting personnel.

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An average of 18 veterans per day died by suicide in 2018.

Some VA staffers reported burnout, high turnover and excessive caseloads, which may be affecting their efficacy, the report said.

The GAO called for an evaluation of local suicide prevention teams' workloads, and changes to reflect the teams' needs, adding that the VA had not done enough to insure that suicide prevention efforts are properly implemented.

"VHA policy requires that every VA medical center and every 'very large' community-based outpatient clinic-a clinic that serves more than 10,000 unique patients-have at least one full-time suicide prevention coordinator," officials wrote in the report.

"Beyond meeting these basic requirements, individual facilities are responsible for staffing their local suicide prevention teams, including hiring and making decisions about how many coordinators their facility has and which qualifications their coordinators have, based on local needs," the report says in part.

Proposed legislation, including sweeping suicide prevention legislation approved by Congress in 2020, has increased recent awareness of veterans' suicides.

VA leaders concurred with the GAO findings, telling Navy Times that improvements will be installed in the next two years.

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