Chairman Takano Delivers Opening Remarks at Hearing on Veteran Suicide Prevention
Jenni Geurink (202-819-4684)
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano (CA-41) gave opening remarks at the full Committee hearing entitled, "Veteran Suicide Prevention: Innovative Research and Expanded Public Health Efforts". Mental health resources are available for veterans who need them here.
Full video of the Chairman’s remarks
Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:
Today, we come together as we do every September to explicitly shine a spotlight on the prevention of veteran suicide. It is work that requires the collective commitment of us all – VA, VSOs, scientists, researchers, policymakers, advocates, families, caregivers, survivors, and loved ones.
The work we all do every day, all year long, to prevent veteran suicide is vital. We talk a lot about systems of care for those in crisis – the Veterans Crisis Line, and, for example, a key part of my COMPACT Act which would ensure any veteran at imminent risk for harm to self or others can receive free stabilization care at or paid for by VA.
I want to make sure all of you – veterans, family members, caregivers, friends, and colleagues – enter the Veterans Crisis Line number in your phones in case you or someone you care about needs it: it’s 1-800-273-8255. That’s 1-800-273-8255.
But we also know that a true public health model of prevention is the most comprehensive, holistic approach to suicide prevention – that everything we do upstream to give veterans and their families stability, meaning, purpose, and joy in their lives is also suicide prevention.
- Stable housing is suicide prevention.
- Financial security is suicide prevention.
- Food is suicide prevention.
- Access to high quality, effective health care, including mental health care, is suicide prevention.
- Education and employment with a living wage are suicide prevention.
- Preventing and treating the effects of trauma, including sexual assault, is suicide prevention.
- Addressing social isolation and loneliness is suicide prevention.
- Encouraging lethal means safety – especially by getting everyone to store their firearms and ammunition safely – is suicide prevention.
And treating all veterans with respect, inclusive of their gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, is suicide prevention. Secretary McDonough’s announcement to begin providing full benefits and services to LGBTQ+ veterans who served and were discharged under Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell is suicide prevention.
We will hear this morning about VA’s ongoing and new suicide research studies, and how science and innovation both guide VA’s broad and targeted efforts to prevent veteran suicide. We want to know what works and what looks promising.
I am also eager to hear how VA has tailored and expanded its mental health support and suicide prevention outreach in the wake of the ongoing pandemic, and the recent US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
This hearing was planned long before the most recent events in Afghanistan, but I have asked VA, VSOs, and the veteran witnesses to share what they have been doing in terms of outreach and additional support for veterans who are struggling. My staff has been in daily contact with VA, VSOs and mental health organizations this past month, and I thank you for keeping them briefed on your needs and your efforts.
Veterans are not a monolithic group – though all have worn the uniform and served this country, they all bring unique backgrounds, experiences, strengths, and challenges to their service and the next phases of their lives.
This means that just as there is no single cause of suicide, there is no single approach to preventing suicide. Our shared goal is to dial down the risk factors in veterans’ lives while dialing up the protective factors.
With this goal in mind, I have directed my staff to put together a legislative package of mental health and suicide prevention bills that we can move with the urgency we all agree is warranted, and they have invited Republican staff to provide input as well.
This new mental health and suicide prevention legislative package will include provisions to:
- improve how VA trains its community mental health providers;
- increase the number of peer specialists in VA medical centers;
- expand VA’s lethal means safety training;
- auto-enroll servicemembers separating from active duty in VA databases during the transition process;
- strengthen and add more resources for the Veterans Crisis Line;
- increase the number of Vet Centers around the country;
- and ensure that suicide prevention outreach and care reaches traditionally underserved veteran communities.
On that note, I just introduced a new bill with Congresswomen Porter and Slotkin, the VA Governors Challenge Expansion Act. Our bill directs VA to treat tribes equal to states for the purposes of the VA Governors Challenge program. It also gives VA new authority to use existing funds to help states and tribes not just develop, but implement, promising veteran suicide proposals tailored to what veterans in their communities need.
I know we all were really pleased to hear that in 2019, the most recent year for which the CDC and VA have reliable suicide death data, the rate of suicide among all US adults but especially veterans went down. The number and the rate of suicide among veterans decreased for the first time in many, many years.
While this is wonderful news, all of us know that it doesn’t pause our commitment and our work for even one second. One veteran dying by suicide is one too heartbreakingly many.
With that, I look forward to hearing from witnesses on both of our panels.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line to receive free, confidential support and crisis intervention available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, text to 838255 or chat online at http://VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.)
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