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Opening Statement of Hon. Harry E. Mitchell, a Representative in Congress from the State of Arizona

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

In November, CBS News brought some shocking, and critically important information to light.  Not just that those who served in the military were more than twice as likely to take their own life in 2005 than Americans who never served…..or that Veterans aged 20-24 were killing themselves when they returned home at rates between two-and-a-half  to four times higher than non-vets the same age, but that the Department of Veterans Affairs wasn’t keeping track of veteran suicides nationwide.

In December, we held a hearing to find out why.

And, Mr. Chairman, I don’t think there is anyone who attended that hearing who will ever forget it.

We heard from Mike and Kim Bowman, whose 23 year old son, Tim, survived a year of duty in Iraq, only to come home and take his own life.

Mr. Bowman warned us that our troops are coming home to an, “understaffed, under-funded, under-equipped VA mental health system” that imposes so many challenges, many are just giving up.

And so, when Dr. Katz insisted at that hearing, repeatedly, that the VA had all the necessary resources to reach all veterans at risk for suicide and make treatment available to them, I was skeptical. 

How could Dr. Katz be so sure that there weren’t any requests for additional resources sitting somewhere, within the vast VA system, that had gone unfulfilled?  Was he absolutely certain that there were no pending request for an additional mental health counselor? Or for extra gas money to enable a VA employee to drive somewhere to conduct outreach?

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, I felt I had a responsibility to make sure.

So I asked the VA to double-check. 

I asked them take a look at their records, and send us any documents relating to any requests for additional resources that had gone unfulfilled or under-fulfilled.

My thought was, if we could find out what the VA needs to address this problem, we could get to work make sure they get it.

More than four months later, however, all I’ve gotten are excuses, complaints, and, most recently, a suggestion that I, “go file a Freedom of Information Act request.”

That’s not just an insult to me, it is an insult to this committee, and to our veterans.

I’ve tried to be reasonable.  I’ve tried to work with Secretary Peake’s office.  But, Mr. Chairman, my patience is at an end.

I’ve given the Department until Friday to finally produce the documents I requested.  If they do not, Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I will be asking you to pursue a subpoena.

I yield back.