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Opening Statement of Hon. David P. Roe, a Representative in Congress from the State of Tennessee

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

I think those of us gathered here today would be hard pressed to find a topic more heartbreaking than when a service member makes the decision to end his or her own life. This hearing is one of many hearings and meetings this Committee has had in an effort to combat veteran suicide and I can tell you that the stories we hear in these proceedings—much like those in Mr. Breggin’s book—always raise difficult questions.

As painful as such anecdotal accounts are, we must take heed not to be so quick to point to a single cause or mistake theory for solution.  It is sound research that is critical to our efforts to put an end to these tragedies and understand the whole story.  

On that front, there are many encouraging signs. In 2008 the Army and the National Institute of Mental Health began a five-year study into the factors that contribute to suicide in the armed forces and how to prevent them. Called the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (or, Army STARRS), this is the largest study of suicide and mental health among military members ever conducted.

In addition, there is a great deal of ongoing public and private research into the causes of suicide and treatment options, including medication, to prevent it.

I am hopeful that with this research, practitioners will be able to better identify risk factors for veteran suicide and design prevention, outreach, and treatment options that are effective and practical within the VA setting.

The psychology behind why a person may see death as the only way out is more complex than any of us have the ability to fully comprehend and it is the interaction of a number of factors that may lead to this catastrophe. In addressing these issues, one cannot simply place blame on the veteran, their military service, their illness, or their chosen treatment option.

As the research goes on, we must allow our veterans and service members to have the full range of approved treatment options that they decide upon with their doctors.

I want to thank our witnesses for being here this morning. I look forward to hearing and learning from each of you. It is only by working together that we can convince every courageous yet struggling American veteran that their country supports them and that hope—and help—are out there.

 I yield back the balance of my time.