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Chairman Roe: PTSD is a Treatable Condition

Today, the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a hearing to promote wellness and healing for veterans experiencing PTSD.

Opening Remarks As Prepared for Delivery

During the Civil War, it was called “soldier’s heart.”

During World War I, it was called “shell shock.”

During World War II, it was called, “battle fatigue.”

Today, we know it as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and last fiscal year alone almost six hundred thousand veterans sought care for it from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

During today’s hearing, we are going to discuss whether the current system of VA health care services and benefits effectively promotes wellness and supports veterans with PTSD in seeking treatment.

VA exists to provide veterans with PTSD – or any other condition that may be connected to a veteran’s time in uniform – with the care they need to live healthy, whole lives.

Accordingly, the array of benefits and services that VA provides to veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD is both impressive and expanding. 

I am encouraged by the plethora of treatment programs - both traditional and non-traditional - that VA offers, by the increasing number of partnerships with private sector and non-profit providers and organizations that VA is entering into to better support those with PTSD, and by the innovative research that VA is continually investing in to gain a deeper understanding of how veterans can overcome PTSD - including one important study that is ongoing right now to evaluate the use of service dogs for veterans with PTSD. 

I very much support that research and look forward to reviewing its results when they become available.  

I also look forward to holding a separate hearing this Congress to discuss more in-depth an issue we will briefly touch on this morning - the benefits of complementary and integrative medicine for veterans and actions needed to spread both the awareness and the availability of non-traditional techniques that can do a world of good for those struggling. 

But, this morning, I want to focus on the perennial problem of PTSD among our nation’s veterans and what more we, as a grateful nation, can be doing to support veterans who may be struggling to seek help and to embrace recovery.

Thanks to quantum leaps in battlefield traumatic medical care there are fewer casualties as a result of today’s conflicts than there have been in previous ones.

Yet, the mental strain that some - certainly not all, but some - of our veterans face seems to be taking a heavier toll than it has perhaps ever before. 

Since 2010, the number of veterans receiving care for PTSD from the VA healthcare system has grown by more than 50 percent and despite historic and ever-increasing investments in VA mental health services and supports since the turn of the century, suicide rates among veterans with PTSD are not declining.

Despite all the good, well-intentioned work that has been done, clearly we must do more to reduce stigma against seeking care, to break down institutional barriers that prevent veterans from accessing the services they need, to encourage veterans with PTSD that they can overcome their current challenges and lead full lives, and - most importantly - to foster connection and healing veteran-to-veteran.

We are joined this morning by a distinguished and diverse group of panelists, three of whom are veterans themselves.

What their testimony will tell you is that we need to recalibrate our current system of care for veterans with PTSD and focus our efforts on wellness-based, peer-support programs that foster community, connection, and conversation between veterans one-on-one - where they will argue most of the real healing begins - and on making it easier for veterans who know they need help to seek care without having to wait in line or jump through bureaucratic hoops for that first appointment.

If there is one over-arching message that I want to get out at this hearing, it is that PTSD is a treatable condition.

It is not a sign of weakness or defeat and it does not have to represent a life of incapacity. 

For any veteran who may need it, there is hope, there is help, and there is healing available both within the VA healthcare system and in your home communities.

There are other veterans who are ready, willing, and able to walk with you.

And, that our focus, as policymakers, is on trying to make it easier for you. 

I appreciate our witnesses for being here to discuss this important topic and, in some cases, to share their very personal stories with us this morning.

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