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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for calling this hearing today. I commend your leadership for addressing suicide prevention and treatment for returning soldiers and our veterans.

Among the many important issues that this Congress and Administration must address in the 111th Congress, I firmly believe we need to do more to prevent veteran suicide.

As we all know, many of our newest generation of veterans, as well as those who served previously, bear wounds that cannot be seen and are hard to diagnose.

There are over 20 million veterans in our country, and only a fraction of them are directly connected to the VA. We must continue to be proactive and innovative to reach those who may need help but may not know where to turn.

Proactively bringing the VA to our veterans, as opposed to waiting for veterans to find the VA, is a critical part of delivering the care they have earned in exchange for their brave service.

We persuaded the VA to overturn its self-imposed ban on television advertising as a method of outreach.  The VA then produced a public service announcement and began an outreach campaign to inform veterans and their families about the suicide prevention hotline.

What began as a limited DC area pilot program has been expanded nationally, and it has been effective.  Since its inception in July of 2007, nearly 225,000 calls were received from veterans. And the hotline has been credited with saving 7,000 lives.

Through measures like the hotline, the VA is able to reach out to many more veterans that it might otherwise be unable to help.

While I applaud the VA and Secretary Shinseki for expanding and extending outreach, I believe we need to do more. We need to expand and extend outreach efforts, including the use of e-mail, Twitter, Facebook and new media, to let veterans know where they can get help.

As I told a group of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who visited me with recently, we need to “have the back” of every veteran.  

Thank you again to all of our witnesses.  I look forward to hearing your perspectives.

I yield back.