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Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Chairman, a Representative in Congress from the State of Maine

The Subcommittee on Health will now come to order.  I would like to welcome everyone to our subcommittee hearing.  We are here today to talk about the Department of Veterans Affairs suicide prevention hotline. 

In May 2007, VHA mental health officials estimated 1,000 veterans, receiving care within the VHA, commit suicide each year. 

Likewise, the rate of suicide among servicemembers appears to be on the rise. The Army recently reported that suicides among active-duty Soldiers this year are on pace to exceed last year’s all-time record and that of the general US population. 

In July 2007, the VA collaborated with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to launch the Veterans Suicide Prevention hotline.  This hotline is a toll-free number and is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As of September 2008, the hotline had served nearly 33,000 veterans, family members or friends of veterans and resulted in more than 1,600 rescues to prevent suicide.

Over the past year, this committee has held many hearings examining suicide among veterans and the VA’s strategy for suicide prevention.  Among the risk factors for suicide is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a disorder that affects many veterans. 

While I commend the VA for implementing a suicide prevention hotline, I would like to hear how the hotline fits in with the VA’s overall strategy to combat suicide.  Furthermore, I would like to investigate issues regarding the hotline’s efficacy and staffing.

I look forward to hearing from our panels today to discuss how we can improve the hotline to best serve our nation’s veterans.