WASHINGTON — The House passed a measure Tuesday evening aimed at finding and implementing the best ways to prevent suicide by female military veterans. It is now headed to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.
The House version of the measure was introduced last June by U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village. The Senate bill introduced by Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., passed on June 7.
Female veterans are six times as likely to commit suicide as nonveteran women, according to studies undertaken by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The National Institute on Mental Health has also noted the trend. VA researchers found that women aged 18 to 29, many of them veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, are 12 times more likely than their non-veteran counterparts to commit suicide.
“I'm so pleased this legislation is on its way to the President's desk because it will save lives among our nation's female veterans,” said Brownley. “The Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act will lead to a better understanding of the factors that contribute to the alarmingly high suicide rates among women veterans so that we can design more effective suicide prevention programs.”
The bill adds women-specific references to the U.S. Code regarding veterans benefits and establishes ways of measuring the effectiveness of suicide-prevention efforts for women veterans.
In an interview in February, Caitlin Thompson, director of suicide prevention and community engagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, said a variety of efforts are already underway to prevent suicide, including flagging medical records if a veteran mentions thinking of committing suicide.
One known factor leading to suicide is separation from active-duty service. Suicide rates are steady over a longer period of separation from service for women, while the rate for men declines over time. Studies have also looked at the prevalence of sexual trauma for women leading to suicide.
About 95 percent of Ventura County's 42,000 veterans are men, according to the county's veterans services officer, Mike McManus.
The current two million female veterans nationwide is a rapidly increasing demographic, Brownley has noted, explaining her interest in seeking a reduction in their suicides.