Coffman, Polis bill would force VA study of veteran suicide, overmedication for behavioral disorders

DENVER – As we honor the American service men and women who have lost their lives in combat on Memorial Day, two Colorado congressmen are working to help stop veterans from dying in the war against drug addiction and suicide back home.

A bill introduced last week, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO06) and Jared Polis (D-CO02), along with other House Democrats and Republicans, aims to put the Veterans Affairs Secretary into an agreement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a full review of veterans’ suicides and drug use over the past 5 years.

The House version of the bill is called the “Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act of 2017.”

If passed and signed by President Donald Trump, the VA and national academies would, within 90 days of the bill’s enactment, undertake a full review of every suicide, violent death, or accidental death of a VA-covered veteran over the past 5 years—regardless of whether the death was covered by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting methodology.

The team would create a list of every medication prescribed to the veteran, as well as any legal or illegal drug the veteran was taking prior to their death.

It would also review every VA diagnosis that led to a doctor describing medication for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injuries, sexual abuse and other anxiety and depression-related disorders.

The review would also be tasked with covering the number of times a veteran was concurrently put on different medications and why, as well as the number of veterans who died after not being prescribed with any medications.

The review would have to make a distinction between whether or not a veteran was also given behavioral health treatments, in addition to prescription drugs, and review protocols in plays in the VA system for pain scoring and prescribing painkillers.

The VA’s staffing levels for mental health professionals would also be reviewed, and an analysis of the VA locations prescribing the highest number of painkillers would also be done.

The program the bill aims to create is similar to a Senate bill sponsored by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., introduced in that chamber.

Both hope to address an alarming increase in the number of veterans’ suicides, which has jumped to around 20 per day in the U.S.

“This bill will enable us to better identify the links between prescription drugs overdoses and veterans’ suicide,” Coffman said. “The VA’s drug-centric culture is not only something we are looking to change, but also we seek to better understand this growing epidemic of opioid use.  Our goal is to ultimately avoid veterans’ and their families’ unnecessary suffering.”

“I’ve long believed that we owe our nation’s heroes alternatives for pain management and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder treatment other than narcotic and opioid pain medications. This study is a step in a positive direction toward heading off the tragic epidemic of veterans' suicide by understanding how traditional systems of treatment may be undermining some veterans’ ability to pursue healthy, happy lives,” Rep. Polis said. 

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