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Opening Statement of Hon. Cliff Stearns, a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Mr. Chairman,

Thank you for holding this important hearing today.  The statistics regarding the rate of suicides among veterans is beyond alarming, it is catastrophic.  These young men and women are heroes-each and every one of them.  Veterans returning from war frequently become valued neighbors and leaders in their community, giving of their time and themselves to help others at home as they did abroad.  Their presence reminds us of the high cost of our freedom, and inspires us to act for others rather than just ourselves.  These young men and women who have served our nation in such extreme circumstances--enduring unbelievable amounts of the stress of war so that those of us who remain at home can live in the peace they protect, deserve the utmost respect--and the utmost care that we can provide.

It is appropriate today that we remember that the problem of the traumatic effects of war upon our veterans has been grappled with for decades. In fact, only about two hours away lies the battlefield of Antietam- the bloodiest single day battle in all of American history with almost 23,000 casualties.  Many of those that survived left the field with more hidden wounds that bandages could not bind.  Back then, it was called by other names like “war sickness.”  In World War II it was “shell-shock” or “battle fatigue”, through the years until now we refer to it as “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  From the very first shots fired for our independence, those who fought to maintain that independence have suffered under the traumatic stress. 

Throughout our battle history, we have learned more and more regarding best treatments for this condition, yet more needs to be done.  I would be interested in statistics that could show clearly the leading factors to suicide attempts.  Are most veterans who commit suicide suffering from PSTD, or from other complicating reasons such as substance abuse, or other mental conditions?  The better we can identify the key indicators and symptoms leading towards suicide attempts, the better we can develop and provide treatments.  As a cosponsor of  HR 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, I was proud when it was signed into law on November 5, 2007.  I believe that this is a key step towards attacking this problem.  I also understand that the VA is improving its screening processes, hiring more counselors, and developing more “best practices” to combat this growing problem.  However, the clock is ticking, and we need to move quickly to prevent the loss of more of our wounded warriors.  I look forward to hearing from our panel of experts more about this dreadful problem and how we are going to work together to prevent the loss of more of our nations heroes.