September 29, 2022

Chairman Takano: “One of the most important things we can do when talking about suicide prevention is to offer hope.”

Press Contact

Miguel R. Salazar (202) 779-1486

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (HVAC) Chairman Mark Takano (D-Calif.) delivered opening remarks at the Full Committee hearing entitled, "Veteran Suicide Prevention: Capitalizing on What Works and Increasing Innovative Approaches."
chairman takano speaking
View Chairman Takano's remarks here.
Chairman Takano’s remarks as prepared:  

For years now, this Committee has prioritized, passed, and sent to the White House major pieces of legislation aimed at preventing suicide and helping veterans create lives of purpose, meaning, and joy. But we know that our work is not done, and today’s full Committee hearing will review science-based best practices of VA’s current public health model and hear about new, innovative approaches, including those from the new suicide prevention community organization grant awardees.  

One of the most important things we can do when talking about suicide prevention is to offer hope. It is my hope that the information and insight gathered today will strengthen the Committee’s development and implementation of life-saving policies that reach each and every veteran.   

And I am confident that the research, outreach, clinical services, crisis response, and policy work we all do, offers hope to veterans who may otherwise feel hopeless. As policymakers, part of our duty is to walk alongside those who carry heavy burdens, often related to their military service, and help connect those seeking more purpose and joy in their lives to new opportunities through which they can thrive. 

Last week, VA released its annual veteran suicide report, leading with what it calls “anchors of hope.” Although we all know that losing one veteran to suicide is one too many, I was encouraged to see that the rate of veteran suicide dropped in 2020 for the second year in a row, despite the pandemic isolation. Also encouraging was the particularly dramatic rate of decrease in veteran suicide deaths among women veterans.  

While these data do offer hope, veterans still die at higher rates than their non-veteran peers, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among veterans under age 45. 

And so, we come together again this year during Suicide Prevention Awareness month to take stock of what is working well, and to urge VA and its partners to capitalize on those efforts to reach even more veterans in need. 

I hope that all of us now have the new, 3-digit national crisis line – 988 - memorized and in our phones. Veterans dialing 988 can still press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line, staffed with responders specially trained in the often-unique needs of military servicemembers and veterans. I applaud VA for transitioning smoothly and effectively to the new number, and encourage those in crisis, or those who may know of someone in crisis, to utilize this resource.  

VA also announced that it has selected three VA facilities to receive new RANGE centers, as Congress mandated in Congresswoman Axne’s Sergeant Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act last year. 27 VA medical facilities competed to get one of these 3 new centers, which tells me that they see the need for this kind of intensive, outpatient, wrap-around case management for veterans with serious mental illness. It also tells me that we should be funding and developing more RANGE centers in our rural areas to serve even more veterans through this successful program. 

There is also evidence that VA could more broadly expand its efforts to train staff and talk with veterans about lethal means safety. Data show that the safe storage of firearms could drop the veteran suicide rate even further.  

I also would like to see VA finally require that its community mental health providers, who are paid by VA to treat our nation’s heroes, receive even a minimum of the same mandatory training VA providers receive in evidence-based approaches to treating PTSD, military sexual trauma, traumatic brain injury, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. We shouldn’t be sending our veterans out into the community to mental health providers who are less equipped – clinically and culturally – to provide the high-quality care our veterans have earned and deserve. 

I don’t want today’s hearing to be solely focused   on what VA has already put in place, though your comprehensive efforts are truly impressive. We also want to look to the edge of innovation, where VA’s researchers and clinicians so often shine.  

What does research tell us about alternative approaches to treating mental health challenges? How can your newly announced community grantees through the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox program partner with VA to extend your reach to those veterans not yet in VA care? How will your Mission Daybreak grand challenge take us far beyond our current limits and approaches, especially by harnessing technology? 

Finally, I want to hear from VA about when we can expect the key provision of my Veterans COMPACT Act – free suicidal stabilization care wherever veterans show up in crisis – to go live?