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Opening Statement of Honorable Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Minority Member

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for continuing to keep the issue of access, quality, and timely mental health services provided to our veterans at the forefront of this Committee.  

Thank you to all of our witnesses today for coming and talking with us about the critical issue of veteran mental health access.  I would also like to thank all of you in the audience who are here today in support of veterans.
We, as a nation, have a responsibility – a sacred trust - to care for those whom we send into harm’s way.    When we send our citizens into battle around the world, we must be leading the charge here at home, within our government, to make them whole again upon their return by ensuring that adequate resources and proper programs are in place to address their needs.

Oversight of VA’s mental health programs has been a focus of this Committee for some time now.  Over the years we have held numerous hearings, increased funding and passed legislation in an effort to address the challenges veterans from all eras face.
VA spent $6.2 billion dollars on mental health programs in Fiscal Year 2012.  I hope to see some positive progress that this funding has been applied to the goals and outcomes for which it was intended, and the programs are working.  

We all know that mental health is a significant problem that the nation is facing, not just veterans or the VA.  In this broader challenge is an opportunity for the VA to look outside their own walls to solve some of the challenges they face, rather than operate in a vacuum as they sometimes have done in the past.
One of the most pressing mental health problems we face is the issue of suicide and how best to prevent it.

Fiscal Year 2012 tragically saw an increase in military suicides and for the third time in four years, the number of suicides surpassed the number of combat deaths.  Couple that with the number of suicides in the veteran population of 18 to 22 per day and the picture becomes even more alarming.

I believe VA is headed in the right direction.  I believe that they have made a true effort to get a good picture of the suicide issues that surround veterans.  I believe more can and must be done.   

I will be interested to hear from our panelists about the national mental health picture and helping this Committee put the veteran suicide rates in context, as well as what is happening nationally in treating mental illness.

Today’s hearing will examine the progress VA has made in a variety of areas concerning mental health and providing timely access and quality care.  

I am hopeful that this will be a good discussion on ways to provide that care such as more partnering with the public and private sector, increasing the pool of providers, and other creative ways to address mental health.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the dedication of the VA employees who provide quality mental health care to our veterans every day.  The directors, doctors, nurses and hospital workers are a team that when it comes together in a collaborative and synergistic way delivers on the nation’s responsibility and sacred trust to care for those who have sacrificed.

With that Mr. Chairman, I yield back.