Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Ann Marie Buerkle, Chairwoman, Subcommittee on Health
Today we meet to search for answers to the most haunting of questions – what leads an individual who so honorably served our nation, out of helplessness and hopelessness, to take their own life and how can we prevent such a tragedy from happening to one who has bravely worn the uniform and defended our freedom.
Suicide is undoubtedly a complex issue, but it is also a preventable one and I am deeply troubled by its persistent prevalence in our military and veteran communities.
The statistics are sobering – eighteen veterans commit suicide each day with almost a third receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the time of their death. Each month, there are 950 veterans being treated by the VA who attempt suicide. The number of military suicides has increased since the start of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF), with data from the Department of Defense (DOD) indicating servicemembers took their lives at an approximate rate of one every 36 hours from 2005 to 2010.
We continue to hear tragic stories despite significant increases in recent years in the number of programs and resources devoted to suicide prevention among our service members and veterans.
Today we will hear from VA and DOD that they are making strides in identifying at risk servicemembers and veterans and providing treatment for mental health and other disorders that can lead to suicide.
Yet, no matter how great programs and services are, if they do not connect with those who need them, they do no good at all. VA and DOD continue to struggle with persistent obstacles including data limitations, cultural stigma, access issues, a lack of partnerships with community providers, and outreach that relies on the service member, veteran, or loved one to initiate treatment.
We must do more to reach out to veterans inside and outside of the VA and DOD health care systems to ensure that all those who need it get the help they earned and deserve before time runs out.
Until a family no longer must bear the pain of losing a loved one, we are failing and not enough is being done.
I thank you all for joining us this morning. I now recognize our Ranking Member, Mr. Michaud for any remarks he may have.