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Opening Statement of Hon. James P. Moran, a Representative in Congress from the State of Virginia

 

  • Mr. Chairman, members of the Committee, I thank you for holding this important hearing and I commend your work that you’ve already undertaken on behalf of our nation’s veterans.
  • Most of us understand from the media reports and anecdotal accounts from our constituents that suicide among our veterans is one of the most pressing issues that we should address. 
  • We know that the new generation of returning soldiers is more vulnerable to the immediate psychological wounds of war that lead to suicide.  20 percent of our veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan show signs and symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety.  This number increases to 50 percent for soldiers with multiple tours or inadequate time between deployments.
  • One of the measures that we can take to prevent suicide is to provide a voice of understanding in their time of need. The “Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline Act”, would create a stand-alone 24-hour national toll-free hotline to assist our nation’s veterans in crisis. 
  • The key is that this hotline would be staffed by veterans, trained to appropriately and responsibly answer calls from other veterans.  These volunteers would be trained in active listening and crisis de-escalation respond to a variety of crisis calls.
  • I understand that the Department of Veterans’ Affairs has developed a veterans’ option off of the National Suicide Hotline.  While I applaud their effort to finally address this problem, I believe that there are key differences in the approach. 
  • Sometimes a veteran doesn’t want to talk to a doctor – he or she wants to talk to someone who’s got a real-life perspective of what’s happening.  This “cultural competency” that a fellow veteran provides can make a real difference in crisis counseling. 
  • Moreover, soldiers with mental illnesses face societal stigma associated with seeking care through the VA.  Research from the Air Force’s suicide prevention efforts suggest that fear of “the system”, of an unfriendly mental health establishment, and of potential job-related consequences keep many active duty soldiers and recent veterans from seeking the care they need. 
  • I am also concerned that the VHA is already overburdened by their many health care responsibilities to provide a top-notch hotline effort.  Stretched budgets and staffing shortages may not be able to meet the challenges of many returning veterans as our nation redeploys from Iraq in the future.  A non-profit organization dedicated to suicide prevention would be able to provide focus, stability and commitment that the VA may not.
  • To conclude, our vets deserve as much support when they return from combat as they receive while in battle.  Too many of our veterans are struggling to make the difficult adjustment back to society and need someone they can talk to, someone who’s walked a mile in their shoes.  This legislation will offer that caring voice at the end of the line.  
  • I applaud the Committee for their work on this effort.