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Opening Statement of Hon. Jeff Miller, Ranking Republican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Florida

Thank you Mr. Chairman. 

I appreciate your holding this hearing today to assess the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) suicide prevention efforts, and in particular the establishment of a national suicide prevention hotline for veterans.

There is nothing more tragic than for a service member who has fought to defend our freedoms to end one’s own life.  And, it is extremely disturbing that every year VA estimates that about 6,500 veterans commit suicide.

It is well known that there are a number of factors increase the risk for a veteran to attempt suicide.  These include combat exposure, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems, traumatic brain injury (TBI) and access to lethal means.

That is why it is so vitally important for VA to understand and respond to the needs of at risk veterans, especially those of our newest generation of combat veterans.  Vulnerable veterans should be assured that VA has the resources readily available and know that help is there and there is a road to recovery.  

Last year, we enacted, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act (Public Law 110-110).  This law required VA to establish a comprehensive program for suicide prevention among veterans.  One of the many initiatives in this comprehensive program was the requirement to establish a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.  

I am pleased to say that VA acted and launched the Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline in July 2007, even before the law was passed.  Designed to meet the special needs of veterans, the VA hotline is an extension of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis.   

Since it became operational last summer, the VA hotline has received almost 70,000 calls from veterans, their friends and family, and active duty service members.   

The hotline is just one of a number of prevention measures that are necessary.  Suicide prevention begins with information and outreach.  This past July, VA began rolling out a campaign in the nation’s capital region about the hotline.  While it is too soon to know the effect of this one ad campaign, we do know that the number of veterans calling the hotline continues to increase.  As the ad says, “It takes the courage and strength of a warrior to ask for help.” 

I look forward to today’s discussions to examine the effectiveness of VA’s suicide prevention activities.  We want to send a message to all of the brave men and women who wear the uniform that we care and seeking help can make a difference in their lives

Thank you and I yield back.