Bergman: Veteran Suicide and Opioid Addiction Must End

Washington – Earlier this week, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) were joined by their colleagues, Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI), Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL), for the bipartisan introduction of H.R. 2652,  the ‘Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act of 2017. The legislation is intended to prevent the overmedication of veterans and combat suicide deaths through the use of comprehensive data. The bill mirrors legislation S.992 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).

H.R. 2652 would direct the VA Secretary to enter into an agreement with the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to conduct a full and through independent review of veterans’ deaths within the last 5 years whose cause was related to a drug overdose or suicide.

Upon introduction of the bill, the Representatives offered the following remarks:

Today an average of 20 veterans die every day from suicide, this is unacceptable” said U.S. Rep. Coffman (R-CO), “This bill will enable us to better identify the links between prescription drugs overdoses and veterans’ suicide. 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.”

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-PA) said “Our veterans deserve the best health care in the world - period. This bill will help us tackle the overmedication of veterans and help prevent veteran suicides. Opioid addiction is something that affects many communities, and unfortunately the veteran community is impacted in disproportionate ways. I am proud to lead on this bipartisan effort to help get those who served our country what they earned and what they deserve.”

“I thank Representatives Coffman and Moulton for introducing this bipartisan companion legislation in the House of Representatives to address the scandal of veterans’ suicide, which claims the lives of 20 veterans each day,” said Senator McCain (R-AZ) “Combatting this epidemic will require the best research and understanding about the key causes of veteran suicide, including whether overmedication of drugs, such as opioid painkillers, is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths. We have a long way to go to eradicate veteran suicide, but our legislation is step in the right direction.”

"Veterans are at risk for both accidental narcotic overdoses and suicide. This bill will help us better understand the relationship between these two epidemics and will ensure that we save more lives." added Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)

Rep. Jack Bergman (R-MI) added "According to the national average, more than 20 Veterans die by suicide each day. We can prevent suicide from claiming more Veteran lives, but in order to do that, we have to get at the root causes. That's why it's so important for us to understand whether and how overmedication is a contributing factor in suicide-related deaths. This legislation would require a case-by-case review of Veteran deaths during the last five years to eliminate harmful practices. This is about identifying what isn't working for Veterans and helping doctors develop and implement safe, effective treatment plans that will work for Veterans. We have to find a way to keep suicide from claiming more Veteran lives, and this legislation is a great start.

“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 (D-CO) said. 

It is truly a national tragedy that 20 veterans die every day due to suicide,” said Rep. Bost (R-IL) “There are obviously a number of contributing factors, including overmedication, but we need more data in order to address this epidemic as effectively as possible. There is still much to do in order to eradicate veteran suicide and Representative Coffman’s bill is an important step in ensuring that doctors develop safe and effective treatment plans for their veteran patients.”

The ‘Veteran Overmedication Prevention Act’ review would include:

  • Total number of veterans who have died by suicide, violent death and accidental death;
  • Comprehensive lists of prescribed medications and legal or illegal substances as annotated on toxicology reports;
  • Summary of VA diagnosis that led to prescribing of medications in cases of PTSD, TBI, MST or other anxiety/depressive disorders;
  • Number of instances in which a veteran was concurrently on multiple medications;
  • VA practice guidelines governing medication prescriptions;
  • Description of VA efforts to maintain appropriate staffing levels for mental health professionals; and
  • Identification of VAMC’s with high prescription rates and suicide rates for veterans receiving treatment

Representative Bergman Represents Michigan’s First District in the House of Representatives. He serves on the Budget and Natural Resources Committees and as Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.


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