Torres Small Introduces Legislation to Improve Veteran Suicide Prevention

July 31, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC –Today, Reps. Xochitl Torres Small (NM-02) and Aumua Amata C. Radewagen (AQ00) introduced the Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment Report Act, or the REACH VET Report Act, which would require the Veterans Administration to report on a predictive analytics suicide prevention program they manage called REACH VET in an effort to improve the prevention program.

“New Mexico has some of the highest suicide rates in the country, including the veterans who call our state home. Veterans have given a great debt to serve our nation, and it’s our job to serve them, providing the support they need before they reach a crisis point. The REACH VET program attempts to improve the VA’s current system to identify former service members who may be a risk to themselves, so they can be connected with the treatment they need to get healthy. I am proud to work on this effort to ensure that no veterans, no matter where he or she lives, is left behind,” said Rep. Torres Small.

“Every veteran’s life is precious, and I’m thankful the REACH VET analysis is there so VA professionals can act when one is at risk,” said Rep. Aumua Amata Radewagen. “Through this bill, adding and improving information, we can make this lifesaving analysis better. Thank you to Congresswoman Torres Small for her leadership on this priority.”

REACH VET (Recovery Engagement and Coordination for Health – Veterans Enhanced Treatment) is an acronym for the VA’s predictive analytic program that uses veterans’ VA health records to predict which are at statistically high risk for suicide. Veterans who are determined to be at high risk have a “REACH VET high risk suicide flag” added to their electronic health records, and these flags pop up and alert VA providers that they need to contact those veterans and implement a protocol for enhanced care, more outreach, coaching back into VA care, etc.

Specifically, this data driven approach helps inform VA facilities of patients who fall in the top 0.1 percent tier of suicide risk and early results have shown positive impact. Veterans are making more health and mental health care appointments; declines in missed appointments; fewer inpatient mental health admissions; and lower all-cause mortality.

The REACH VET Act would require a report from VA, including:

  1. an assessment of the impact of the REACH VET program on rates of suicide among veterans;
  2. an assessment of how limits within the REACH VET program, such as caps on the number of veterans who may be flagged as high risk, are adjusted for differing rates of suicide across the country;
  3. a detailed explanation, with evidence, for why the conditions included in the model used by the REACH VET program were chosen, including an explanation as to why certain conditions, such as bipolar disorder II, were not included even though they show a similar rate of risk for suicide as other conditions that were included; and
  4. an assessment of the feasibility of incorporating certain economic data held by the Veterans Benefits Administration into the model used by the REACH VET program, including financial data and employment status, which research indicates may have an impact on risk for suicide. The data included in this assessment is already collected by the VA and financial factors are considered a high-risk factor for suicide however they are not included in the current REACH VET model.