Citing High Personnel Vacancy Rates at Hampton VA Center, Congresswoman Luria Pushes for Answers to Prevent Veteran Suicide

February 3, 2020
Press Release
Hampton VA Center Vacancy Rate is 3.5 times higher than the national average.

WASHINGTON – This week, Congresswoman Luria participated in the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ (HVAC) full committee hearing on veteran suicide. Throughout the hearing, Congresswoman Luria pressed VHA and medical officials for answers on the effectiveness of the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) work in preventing veteran suicides and on their ability to hire and retain quality personnel.

“Too many of our bravest men and women come home with invisible wounds and scars caused by the trauma they experienced while serving our country,” Congresswoman Elaine Luria said. “I am deeply concerned by the Committee’s findings that indicate that suicide rates for our youngest veterans are increasing while VA does not have the staff capacity to give them the quality care and attention they deserve. We must uphold our end of the promise by giving VA the resources needed to ensure that we can address this health crisis for our veterans.”

This week’s HVAC hearing, entitled Caring for Veterans in Crisis: Ensuring a Comprehensive Health System Approach, examined the extent to which the VHA adopted a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. It explored VHA policies and employee training in identifying veterans at risk of suicide, VHA’s coordination of care for at-risk veterans, the VA police force’s role in identifying to veterans in crisis on VHA facilities, and how effective the VHA is at maintaining a safe and therapeutic environment for veterans experiencing mental health crises.

Throughout the hearing, Congresswoman Luria questioned VHA leadership, probing for answers on VHA’s staffing challenges. These include long delays in hiring and certifying employees at these facilities, as well as barriers preventing collective bargaining among employees. Localizing the severity of the issue, Congresswoman Luria cited that stated that mental health facilities at the Hampton VA Center have a personnel vacancy rate of 35.5%, which is three and a half times the national average of 10 percent. This means that over one in three positions at mental health facilities at the Hampton VA Center remain unfilled, leaving the facility short-staffed to assist veterans suffering from mental health crises. Additionally, she cited that 99 of 140 VHA facilities reported that they had at least one shortage area of mental health care providers. The Congresswoman then highlighted morale concerns among VA employees due to attempts to infringe employees’ rights to organize. This presents challenges as the VA seeks to retain quality staff at a time when recruitment of qualified personnel is difficult. She pressed VA leadership on how they can ensure employees have fair recourse and representation in employment decisions.

Click above to watch footage of Congresswoman Luria’s exchange with VA officials.

Data from VA’s 2019 National Suicide Prevention Annual Report shows that an average of 16.8 veterans die by suicide every day. Of these 16.8 veterans who die by suicide every day, 6.3 of them used VHA services within two years of their death.

A video of Congresswoman Luria’s participation in this week’s hearing can be found here.

Congresswoman Elaine Luria represents Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee, where she is the Vice Chair of the Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, where she serves as Chair of the Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs Subcommittee.