May 18, 2016

Opening Statement of Ranking Member Corrine Brown: “Combating the Crisis: Evaluating Efforts to Prevent Veteran Suicide”

Washington, D.C. – Today, Ranking Member Corrine Brown issued this statement during an oversight hearing of the Committee on Veterans' Affairs.  

Opening Statement:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman for calling this hearing today. 

Strong oversight of the Department’s Suicide Prevention Programs remains a priority of this Committee.  We are all aware of the often cited statistic of 22 veterans a day committing suicide.

We also know that VA reported in 2014 that there is decreased rates of suicide among users of the Veterans Health Care System with mental health conditions. 

The question becomes how do we ensure ready access to safe, quality, mental health services for veterans in need of care?  

I hope the VA witnesses here today will be able to update us on these numbers, as much of the country was not included in previous estimates. 

One subject that concerns me relates to the new MyVA 12 breakthrough priorities.  I understand that addressing the suicide problem is not one of them.  ‘Increase access to healthcare’, ‘improve the compensation and pension exam’, ‘continue to reduce homelessness’ and ‘transform the supply chain’ are all on the list, but specifically reducing suicide is not included.  Given that suicide, nationally, is considered by some to be a public health problem, I believe VA should include suicide prevention as one of their MyVA priorities.

I look forward to VA’s testimony on this and where suicide prevention fits into the 12 priorities.  I know that the urgency of this issue is not lost upon the VA.  VA leads the nation in service related mental health treatment, and rightfully so.

The Suicide Data Report of 2012 was published by the VA partially as a result of the 2007 Joshua Omvig (AHM-vig) Veterans Suicide Prevention Act.  This law was a positive first step in addressing what was then a burgeoning epidemic of suicides in the veteran community.  It required, among other things, the VA to establish a comprehensive program for suicide prevention among veterans.  Additionally, it required the creation of a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility, who are responsible to engage in outreach to veterans.  Finally, this law required VA to set up a toll-free hotline.

Mr. Chairman, this hearing will also examine the implementation of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.  Passed in the early days of the 114th Congress, this law focused the nation on this terrible epidemic affecting veterans of the current cohort. 

This law requires the Secretary of Veterans Affairs and the Secretary of Defense to arrange for an outside evaluation of their mental health care and suicide prevention programs.

It also requires any service member being discharged to have their case reviewed for any evidence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or Traumatic Brain Injury or Military Sexual Trauma. 

We have been at war for over 14 years.  There are many veterans out there who do not engage the VA health care system for purposes of mental health treatment, veterans from all eras.  Today, the discussion should include how VA is going to reach these veterans, what better ways can be used to ensure access to quality mental health care, and finally, once veterans are engaged, how do we keep them engaged.  It is time to think outside the box and tackle this very pervasive problem. 

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and I yield back the balance of my time.