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Opening Statement of Hon. Bob Filner Chairman, and a Representative in Congress from the State of California

 

Good morning and welcome to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Stopping Suicides: Mental Health Challenges within the Department of Veterans Affairs

Mental health issues have been a focus of this Committee all year long and will continue to be at the forefront of our agenda.  Public Law 110-110, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act was enacted in November of this year. 

The House has also passed H.R. 2199, the “Traumatic Brain Injury Health Enhancement and Long-Term Support Act of 2007,” H.R. 2874, the “Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007,” and H.R. 612, the “Returning Servicemember VA Healthcare Insurance Act of 2007.”  Each of these pieces of legislation addresses mental health issues in some aspect concerning the well being of veterans. 

The demands confronting VA today are complex and sometimes overwhelming.  VA must find a way to ensure quality and efficiency do not suffer as they move forward, continuing to treat veterans from past wars while adapting to the unique needs of the younger veterans of modern warfare who are entering the system for the first time. 

We know that OEF/OIF servicemembers are subject to repeated deployments, an intense level of close combat, extended deployment lengths and repeated family separations. 

VA has reported that of the 263, 909 separated OEF/OIF veterans who have obtained VA health care since FY 2002, 38 percent have received a diagnosis of a possible mental disorder.  Of that population, 48 percent have a possible diagnosis of PTSD.  The prevalence of mental health problems among returning servicemembers is troublesome and should be of concern to everyone.

Recent events have been brought to the attention of this committee through a CBS report on the rising suicide rates among veterans.  We also know that male veterans are at elevated risk of suicide relative to non-veterans.  In fact, they are twice as likely to die of suicide compared to male non-veterans in the general population. 

Of great concern to the Committee is the recent VA Inspector General report that found that nearly 1,000 veterans who receive VA care commit suicide every year, and as many as 5,000 a year are committed among all living veterans.

Today we will take a hard look at programs the VA has implemented to address the challenges of suicide.

I look forward to the upcoming testimony.