The Veterans Affairs Department left millions of dollars unspent that had been allocated for suicide prevention, according to a report from the Government Accountability Office. The VA had $6.2 million available for suicide prevention outreach in fiscal year 2018, but had spent $57,000 of this budget as of September.
The report says that the VA had identified suicide prevention as its highest clinical priority in 2018. Veterans suffer a disproportionately higher rate of suicide than the civilian population, according to the GAO, and the VA has estimated that an average of 20 veterans die by suicide per day.
The report also found that the VA's social media use for veterans suicide prevention outreach dropped in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. The agency developed 339 pieces of social media content for veterans suicide prevention in President Obama's final year in office in 2016, but posted only 159 pieces of content in fiscal year 2017 and 47 posts in fiscal 2018 as of July 2018.
The Veterans Health Administration, which is the healthcare branch of the department, told the GAO that the drop in suicide prevention media outreach was related to leadership turnover going back to 2017.
In the report, the GAO recommended that the VA develop a new approach for overseeing its suicide prevention media outreach and develop metric targets.