Morelle introduces bill to reform VA spending after audit finds millions left unspent
13 WHAM— Bret Mandell left the U.S. Army more than a decade ago. He served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like many vets, he says he struggled to adjust to civilian life again, and struggled with thoughts of suicide.
“It’s just hard to express it and when you do express it, some people look at you different. It’s suffering in silence,” said Mandell.
Mandell says he has friends and fellow veterans who ended their own lives after coming back from service.
Now, he lives in the Nucor House in Penfield with other veterans, and is hopeful others who are struggling with thoughts of suicide can find help.
Lawmakers are now also trying to make sure that happens through new legislation.
This comes after an audit found that Veterans Affairs had left millions unspent to help spread the word about veteran suicide prevention awareness last year.
Congressman Joe Morelle (D, NY-25) introduced the bill to Congress. Last year, the VA spent just $1.5 million of a $6.2 million budget on paid media to get the word out about veteran suicide prevention programs, according to Morelle.
The bill would require the VA to better track its spending and report its progress with media awareness campaigns, he said.
“Why wouldn’t you have done a better job to get the money out the door and make sure these programs exist?” said Morelle. “We want to make certain we send the message to the VA that we want you to spend the money and spend it appropriately.”
According to the VA, an average of 20 veterans kill themselves each day.
Veterans like Mandell say veteran suicides aren’t all on the VA. And while he feels there’s been progress in helping veterans struggling with thoughts of suicide, he says more can be done.
“Maybe it needs to be a little more ‘in your face,'” Mandell said about getting the word out about help. “It’s alive and it’s real.”
The VA says it won’t take a position on the proposed legislation, which is now under review from the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
Just last month, Monroe County leaders say three veterans from the Rochester area committed suicide.
Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo said the issue of suicide among veterans is at a “crisis level” both here and across the country.
“I want our entire community to know that our Veterans Service Agency stands ready to help local veterans in crisis, whenever and wherever they need it,” she said in a statement. “We also appreciate that Congressman Morelle has joined our efforts to help advocate for increased funding to better serve those who have served us.”
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