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The VA is turning to a controversial private group to handle the veteran suicide crisis

Every day 20 U.S. veterans kill themselves. It’s a mental-health crisis that the Department of Veteran Affairs has struggled to deal with.

The government-funded VA — the only fully socialized healthcare system in the U.S. — is turning to the private sector to get a handle on the veteran suicide crisis. But a new private partnership is proving controversial among VA loyalists who view the agreement as a Trojan horse to accelerate the privatization of the entire VA system.

Each day about 20 veterans kill themselves — an increase of 32 percent since 2001, compared to a 23 percent rise for the general population, with an alarming trend of women and noncombat vets committing suicide in recent years. But according to the VA, 14 of the 20 will not have engaged with VA healthcare. So this spring, the VA partnered with the Cohen Veterans Network, a private mental-health group that’s spending millions on veteran suicide prevention.


The CVN network is funded by hedge-fund billionaire Steve Cohen, who was at the center of one of the biggest insider trading scandals in recent memory, and has plowed $275 million into funding 25 clinics by the year 2020.

CVN is supposed to be filling the gaps where the VA isn't reaching certain veterans. That includes veterans who’ve been dishonorably discharged, and veterans' family members — two groups the VA legally isn’t allowed to serve — as well as veterans who may not feel an affinity with the VA.

But Suzanne Gordon, a veterans healthcare expert, thinks CVN could end up diverting resources away from the VA itself.

“It's not just the direct suicide prevention programs that prevent suicide. It's all kinds of other programs that help veterans manage pain and learn yoga, stress reduction and mindfulness meditation. All these participate in this tapestry of suicide prevention,” Gordon, who wrote "The Battle for Veterans Healthcare", told VICE News. “You start pulling those threads apart…and pretty soon you don't have a tapestry anymore; you have big holes through which veterans can slip.

However, for veterans like former Senior Airman Ineke Honingh, who served in the Air Force for six years — but left with a PTSD diagnosis after military sexual assault — it matters less who is treating them than just getting treatment.

This segment originally aired May 9, 2018 on VICE News Tonight on HBO.