Opening Statement of Hon. Michael H. Michaud, Ranking Democratic Member, Subcommittee on Health
I would like to thank everyone for attending today’s hearing.
It is a tragedy that our service members and veterans survived the battle abroad only to return home and fall to suicide. Since 2007, this Committee has held five hearings regarding the issue of veterans’ suicide, and the figures continue to increase at an alarming rate, far greater than the comparable suicide rates among the general population.
The Center for a New American Security, in a recently published study entitled, “Losing the Battle: The Challenges of Military Suicide,” says that from 2005 to 2010, service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours. This statistic is troubling, but it pales in comparison to VA’s estimate that one veteran dies by suicide every 80 minutes.
While I commend the VA’s efforts to reduce the suicide rate, particularly with the success of its Veterans Crisis hotline, challenges still remain. Through this hearing, we will examine the steps the VA is taking to strengthen data collection, to pinpoint veterans who may be at risk, and to offer effective intervention. In this process, we will also seek to better understand the reasons why more and more service members and veterans are taking their own lives and what VA and DoD are doing to put a stop to more suicides.
I’d like to thank our panelists for appearing before us this morning. Particularly, I’d like to commend Dr. Jan Kemp for her leadership. Under her direction, the VA has made great strides in its suicide prevention efforts. Dr. Kemp’s work is award winning, and she was named the Federal Employee of the Year in 2009.
I’d also like to thank the Maine Army National Guard for submitting written testimony and for their efforts to ensure that every Soldier has access to the care they need. The Maine Army National Guard already has a close working relationship with the Suicide Prevention staff at Togus VA hospital. This is a relationship that must be replicated on the national level through cooperation between the VA and the DoD. Unfortunately, as the Maine Army National Guard testimony points out, too many soldiers—including those not eligible for VA benefits and those who do not have health insurance—struggle to find care.
I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses today to discuss how we can improve access, treatments, and prevention efforts to best serve our nation’s veterans.
Thank you, Madam Chair, and I yield back.