The Buzz

Kansas congressman wants VA to explore new ways to prevent suicide by veterans

Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas, shows off a commemorative plate given to him by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, one of the few decorations in his Capitol Hill office.
Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas, shows off a commemorative plate given to him by Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, one of the few decorations in his Capitol Hill office. McClatchy Washington Bureau

A Kansas lawmaker who served in Afghanistan wants the Veterans Administration to explore new ways of helping veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as part of a bipartisan effort to prevent suicide.

Rep. Steve Watkins, R-Kansas, is one of three House members lawmakers behind a bipartisan bill that would instruct Secretary of Veteran Affairs Robert Wilkie to launch a pilot program to study the effectiveness of nonprofit post-traumatic treatment programs.

“From 2006 to today the negative trend of veterans suicides has failed to improve. This is unacceptable. The VA needs to be innovative, responsive, and on the front lines of mental health research, not lagging decades behind,” said Watkins, a freshman congressman who served in the Army in Afghanistan and later worked as a contractor in Iraq.

“Congress has been failing our veterans; this bill is a good first step in turning the corner and starting to provide real assistance to the men and women who fought for our freedoms.” .

The VA would determine the locations and the contracts with nonprofits would be competitively bid, according to Watkins’ office. The bill also requires that at least four of the groups participating in the program consist solely of female veterans.

The other lawmakers pushing the bill are Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, and Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pennsylvania, a Navy veteran who served in Iraq.

Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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