Report skewers VA for neglecting suicide prevention outreach

Despite Trump vow, VA suicide prevention efforts decreased

(CNN) - Ever since President Donald Trump announced he was running for office, he promised to protect veterans and fix the Department of Veterans Affairs with an emphasis on preventing veterans' suicides.

But a new federal investigation reveals that when it comes to one major multi-million dollar effort to reach out to struggling veterans, the Trump administration has not delivered.

The report shows a lack of leadership from the administration is directly impacting the VA’s ability to reach suicidal veterans.

An average of 20 veterans take their own lives every day, according to the VA’s own findings.

Yet the Government Accountability Office found that as of September, the Veterans Health Administration has spent less than one percent of its $6.2 million annual budget for suicide prevention outreach.

"My biggest takeaway was the overall decline in effort across multiple lines of effort in their suicide prevention media campaign,” said Nicole Clowers with the GAO.

Part of the reason is there was nobody to lead such an effort.

"The suicide prevention office had no permanent leader for nearly nine months until Secretary (Robert) Wilkie arrived as acting secretary in April,” the VA said in a statement to CNN.

The statement added that “suicide prevention is VA’s highest clinical priority, and every death by suicide is a tragedy.”

Clowers countered that “their efforts to make people aware of their suicide prevention efforts does not match that priority.”

The report found the VA failed to spend as much as 99 percent of its budget on advertising its suicide prevention initiatives.

The ads provide outreach and alert struggling veterans and their families about the existence of programs that could save their lives.

In 2015, the VA budget yielded 58 online ads, 30 billboards, 19,000 radio ads and much more. This year saw dramatic decreases, including radio alone plummeting to just eight advertisements.

Not only are there fewer commercials to reach veterans, the VA has no clear measure of its campaign's effectiveness, according to the study.

"That rests with VA leadership, to make sure they have the right people in those positions to make those decisions and carry out the mission,” Clowers said.

The VA said its new suicide prevention director, Dr. Keita Franklin is "reviewing the spending for this important program as part of her duties.”

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