Washington, D.C. - Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, chaired by Rep. Phil Roe, M.D. (R-Tenn.), held a hearing on veteran suicide prevention and how to maximize effectiveness of Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) programs aimed at suicide prevention.
Below are Chairman Roe’s remarks:
Opening Remarks As Prepared for Delivery:
The Committee will come to order.
Welcome and thank you all for joining us for today’s Full Committee hearing on veteran suicide prevention.
Most of us have heard VA’s staggering and heartbreaking statistic that every day, twenty veterans end their own lives.
We also know that over the past several years VA has invested significant resources towards addressing that number which stubbornly has not changed.
We know from VA’s testimony that fourteen of those twenty veterans have not sought medical care at VA – meaning that only 30% of veterans who commit suicide have been to a VA campus for an appointment. Significant resources have been put toward outreach as well.
These numbers leave me with a lot of questions – ones which I hope to find answers to today. What did these veterans, men and women who reached an appalling level of crisis, find lacking when they sought VA healthcare or what prevented them from seeking mental health services from VA in the first place?
Sadly, it’s too late to ask these veterans, themselves.
I hope to hear more about the various programs and initiatives VA mentions in its testimony, such as those for women and homeless veterans. I’m also eager to hear about how these programs and initiatives partner with the communities and organizations that also working hard to be part of the solution.
I also want to know how these initiatives are truly executed – it’s nice to outline how a program should work, but for every veteran who is not properly referred for treatment, for every veteran who is not admitted due to a shortage of staff or bed, for every veteran who feels they have been ignored or dismissed, we run the risk of only adding another tragic number to the statistics. But the veteran is not a number – that veteran is someone who has fallen through the cracks, regardless of the good intentions.
Today’s conversation should primarily revolve around the root causes of veterans’ suicide, identifying those at risk for suicide, recognizing the unique barriers that certain veteran populations face, and tying all of that to advancing the innovative approaches that offer the promise of preventing suicide among veterans.
I’m eager to hear about the efficacy of recent improvements to VA’s eligibility rules for mental healthcare.
Under the Trump Administration, VA will now expand mental health services to all departing servicemembers for 12 months following separation from the military – which, as we know, is also the highest risk period for suicide among veterans.
And thanks to the work of this Committee, veterans with Other Than Honorable discharges may now seek mental health services for conditions that possibly contributed to their unfavorable separation status.
Have these changes made a difference?
I hope that today’s hearing will shed light on this very challenging topic.