Opening Statement of Hon. Russ Carnahan, Democratic Member
I would like to thank Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Filner, and Members of the Committee for holding this hearing. I want to begin by recognizing the efforts of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and congratulating them on their successes in the past year. Two VA campaigns, The Veterans Crisis Line and Make the Connection, have been particularly noteworthy, consequently earning forty-three awards for excellence. Another case between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development reduced veterans’ homelessness by 12% and won the distinguished Samuel J. Heyman Citizens Service Medal. The VA has even committed $28 billion to finding homeless veterans homes that they have a chance at keeping, affecting 25 states across the nation, including my home state, Missouri.
In summary, we have done well for our veterans, but now, sixty years after the establishment of the VA, we must renew our commitment to provide the men and women who have served our country in uniform with the healthcare services they have earned. Our troops are committed to protecting our freedom, and our commitment to them does not end when they return home.
The VA offers healthcare treatment and services to our nation’s veterans who suffer from service-related physical or mental disabilities. While the diagnosis of physical injuries typically is made before or shortly after separation from the military, mental illnesses may not manifest themselves until years later. As the United States military and the VA continue to improve treatment for those who have served, there remains a gap for veterans struggling with mental illnesses.
The frequency of possible diagnosis for mental health disorders is estimated at 43.7 percent of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom veterans who have received Veterans Administration treatment. I encourage you to protect veterans’ rights to mental healthcare treatment and services by supporting the Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act.
Currently, Afghanistan and Iraq veterans face a five year window in which they must seek treatment for mental illnesses before losing their higher priority status. Veterans from previous wars face harsher bureaucratic obstacles. The Veterans Mental Health Accessibility Act, which I introduced last March, would eliminate the five year window and give veterans who served in combat from all military operations the ability to seek treatment for service-connected mental illnesses, regardless of when their conditions manifest themselves. This bill would make the services and treatments that are available to Afghanistan and Iraq veterans available to all veterans who have served in combat in previous military operations such as the Second World War, the Korean War, and Vietnam. I urge the members on this committee who are not already cosponsors of the bill to take action now.
It is our responsibility to care for the veterans who have defended our nation, and our continuing duty to prepare for the return of our soldiers still abroad.
I hope today’s hearing will shed some light on ways that we can work together to guarantee our service men and women have the support they need and deserve.