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Opening Statement of Hon. Russ Carnahan, a Representative in Congress from the State of Missouri

Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the Committee, thank you for hosting this hearing to discuss mental health care issues in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mental health is crucial to being a productive member of society. Unfortunately, many of our veterans struggle upon their return home. Today’s hearing provides a conversation between Congress and those with knowledge of what needs to be done to ensure our Nation’s heroes are successful and healthy.

Our veterans returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom are suffering a lasting mental health toll. They have witnessed urban guerilla warfare and have intimately experienced the stress of combat. Many have seen their friends lost. They then return home to begin the difficult reintegration into civilian life. According to the VA, only half of OIF and OEF veterans have been evaluated and seen as outpatients in health care facilities. Of those, one out of four veterans demonstrates Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is a disabling mental health epidemic among veterans. It impedes all aspects of a veteran’s life, from employment to social wellbeing and family relationships. It is staggering that over half of OIF and OEF veterans have not been seen in health care facilities. How can these men and women begin to cope if they have not received the proper mental health evaluation? In 2008, the VA began efforts to call all veterans who had not yet enrolled in a VA health clinic to encourage them to seek care. These are the kinds of concerted efforts we must continue to employ. If our veterans are to thrive, we have to actively close the gaps that hinder their recuperation.

PTSD rates have been steadily growing since the overseas conflicts began. Depression diagnoses are up particularly among younger active duty veterans who have higher combat exposure. We need greater community outreach efforts to help these heroes. By connecting with veterans in their own communities, we can provide the necessary support and encouragement for recovery. Many veterans find it personally difficult to seek care, but we can’t allow these men and women to fall through the cracks. We must expand the scope of VA Vet Centers to ensure that service members make a smooth transition.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses on ways we can guarantee successful community reintegration and mental health services for all veterans.