Former acting VA chief sounds alarm on rising veteran suicide and homelessness

"It definitely seems like there's been an effort to just make things quiet at the VA," said former acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Peter O'Rourke.

Updated: October 2, 2022 - 11:31pm

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Cases of veteran suicide and homelessness are rising, and wait times for treatment are lengthening, according to former acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Peter O'Rourke, but his old agency seems intent on keeping the bad news out of the headlines.

O'Rourke appeared on the "Just the News, Not Noise" television show recently to discuss a recent report from America Warrior Partnership that veteran suicide is two and a half times greater than the VA originally reported.

"It definitely seems like there's been an effort to just make things quiet at the VA," he said.

Under the Trump administration, the process prioritized the veteran having more say regarding their treatment and healthcare, but that seems to be slipping away, according to O'Rourke. 

"There was a lot of energy behind improving processes for veterans by taking a veteran-centric view of everything that we did there at the department," O'Rourke explained. "I won't say that's completely gone — but we're not getting great reports now." 

The epidemic of veteran homelessness is spreading, and VA coordination with states and localities to ameliorate the problem has been wanting, said the department's former chief. 

"There's so many different efforts, whether they're community-based, whether they're out of the VA, trying to address this issue," O'Rourke said. "So you have to ask yourself the question: Why isn't this getting through? We're spending lots of money, we're out on the streets seeing these folks out there. I think it really comes down to the what the states are doing."

Many of the housing benefit programs, like the Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing program (HUD-VASH) and others, "really depend on the cooperation and the collaboration with the folks at the state and community level," said O'Rourke. "And it really appears that the VA really needs to do a better job at that."