Joint Hearing of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs of the U.S. Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives at 1:00 p.m. CDT.
Opening Statement of Hon. Steve Buyer, Ranking Repubican Member, and a Representative in Congress from the State of Indiana
Thank you Mr. Chairman.
The loss of a single veteran to suicide is a tragedy.
I am sure that like me, every member of this committee seeks to identify and eliminate contributing factors, and to prevent one more service-member or veteran from taking his or her own life. I want to thank Chairman Filner for continuing hearings to discuss this issue and to help those at risk.
A number of questions were raised during our hearing last December regarding the validity of data on the number of veteran suicides. Such information is vital to understanding the scope of the problem, as well as identifying risk factors and providing better prevention and treatment protocols.
Chairman Filner joined with me in a letter I wrote to VA, DOD, and CBS requesting their respective data and how it was formulated. CBS failed to respond.
DOD acknowledged the letter, yet I am still awaiting a further reply.
Secretary Peake was the only one to provide a thorough response, which was about two separate studies VA is conducting.
These studies may provide some useful information, but they are limited to data on suicide rates among veterans in the VA health care system. VA must have a better method for the systematic collection and tracking of veteran suicide data. It is also important to find ways to reduce the stigma associated with mental health care and encourage more servicemembers to seek treatment when it is needed.
During our last hearing, I asked VA to be proactive and reach out to soldiers and their families during pre-mobilization - and to start with the 76th Indiana Brigade Combat Team as it prepared to deploy to Iraq. I was very pleased that VA came as requested and participated in the outreach event.
I stood with 3,400 Indiana soldiers at the RCA dome on January 2 for the formal send-off ceremony. Along with about 20,000 friends and family members was VA staff from the Indianapolis VA Medical Center, Regional Office, and Vet Center.
VA reported that about 1,700 families received information regarding VA benefits and services, including mental health services and Information on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Suicide Prevention.
VA also followed-up with subsequent briefings while the Brigade was at Ft. Stewart, Georgia for training.
As the Brigade marched to war, I believe they left with a clear impression that VA will be available to provide support and assistance to their family during their deployment and will be there when they return from Iraq. There was very positive feedback regarding the VA presence at these events.
Secretary Peake has taken decisive actions to meet the increased needs for mental health services. For example, on May 1st, VA began contacting nearly 570,000 recent combat veterans about VA medical care and benefits.
These veterans were either injured in Iraq or Afghanistan or discharged from active duty, but have not yet contacted VA.
The Secretary has also directed the creation of an independent workgroup to assess VA’s suicide prevention programs.
I want to thank Secretary Peake and the other witnesses for their participation today and I look forward to their testimony.
In the end, I hope that this hearing will drive home the message to our Nation’s men and women who serve, and to their families, that if you are in need of help, care is available, treatment works and there is a road to recovery.