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

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  And thank you for holding today’s hearing. 

Last month, 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 to 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.

The VA is one of the best health care systems in the country, with literally thousands of professionals working to help veterans with mental health needs.

But with all due respect, if the VA doesn’t know the size and the scope of the problem, how can we know if they’re adequately addressing our veterans’ mental health needs?

As disturbed as I was by the CBS’ report, I was even more disturbed by the VA’s response.  Instead of reviewing the information and thinking critically about whether the VA might need to take some additional measures, they immediately attacked the messenger, calling CBS News’ analysis a “questionable journalistic tactic.”

Obviously it would be great to compare CBS’ numbers to those kept by the VA, but that’s precisely the point; the VA hasn’t been keeping them.

I think this kind of defensiveness is a disservice to veterans, and to all the hardworking employees of the VA who are doing their best to help our wounded warriors.

So, as we begin today’s hearing, I just want to say that I hope we can get past the name-calling, and hurt feelings and gotcha-fights about methodology and do what the American people expect us to do: work together to prevent more of these unspeakable tragedies and, if at all possible, try to bring some small measure of comfort to those who mourn.

I yield back.