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Opening Statement of Honorable Brad Westrup

Good morning, and welcome to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee field hearing, “Making a Difference: Shattering Barriers to Effective Mental Health Care for Veterans.”

Mr. Chairman, I want to formally and officially welcome you to Cincinnati!  As you have seen these past two days, this district – a district I am so privileged to represent – has an incredibly rich tradition of military service.  I want to thank you for the leadership you have shown on the issue of veterans’ mental healthcare and for hosting this field hearing here today. I am also grateful that Representative Massie, a strong supporter of our military and our nation’s veterans, has taken time out of his schedule to be here.  Congressman Massie, thank you.  

To the witnesses on our panels, to each person in the audience, and, especially, to every veteran present today: thank you for joining us.  It is important for us all to be engaged in this issue if we are going to truly improve the care our veterans receive.

This field hearing is an opportunity to bring Congress to Cincinnati. I’m pleased that the Subcommittee on Health will hear directly from the veterans, the family members of veterans, the service officers, and the community providers of this region.  They will provide a valuable perspective on the common barriers to mental healthcare that our veterans face.

The veterans of Southern and Southwest Ohio are a diverse group. They were raised on farms, in urban high-rises, and in suburban neighborhoods. But they share a common bond: they made the voluntary commitment to serve our nation. Only one percent of Americans have served in uniform. Their accomplishments have been amazing and truly unmatched by the rest of the world. As a veteran of the war in Iraq and a member of the Army Reserve, I have witnessed the heroism of my fellow veterans and have deep respect for them.

We can never repay them for their sacrifice, but we can honor it by ensuring that they and their families receive the care that they deserve. In Ohio, we have a robust system of Veterans Service Commissions that serve our veterans with zeal and dedication. I am grateful to have the representatives from commissions in three different counties present to testify today.

There is growing recognition that we must develop better treatment for the “invisible wounds” that veterans bring home, including depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and traumatic brain injury. These wounds affect veterans of all our past wars, but the veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom face unique mental health challenges. Because of technological advances, more soldiers are surviving physical combat injuries, but they present disproportionate neurological and psychological wounds. Studies suggest that one in five veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has PTSD.  A decade of war with frequent and extended deployments has made it more critical than ever before to create a quality mental healthcare system for our veterans.

There are many challenges in our current system that do not allow veterans to get the care they need. Sometimes, veterans are simply unable to access care: they have difficulties in scheduling timely appointments or the office is simply too far away.  Other times, veterans are unwilling to ask for or accept help. Each veteran has unique struggles and needs, and we need a mental health care system that is able to provide effective, individualized care.

Today, we will discuss how the Department of Veterans Affairs can better improve its approach to and delivery of mental healthcare.

Truly effective care, however, will extend beyond the VA: it will require the involvement of veterans’ families and their communities, including veterans service organizations, community healthcare providers, and faith organizations.

Each of us has a role to play in improving veterans’ access to mental healthcare.

Again, thanks to each of you for being here for this important discussion.