Rep. Scott Peters
I want to thank Chairman Miller, Ranking Member Michaud, and the Committee for tackling an issue that touches entirely too many veterans and their families in my district, and districts throughout the country.
Improving access to mental health services in the VA is something I have a deep and committed interest in and while I am not a member of this Committee there is no place I’d rather be this morning.
I also want to thank the panelists for agreeing to be here today to share their experiences and expertise—it takes a lot of courage to do what you’re doing and I want to thank you for that.
Beyond the power of your stories, you are providing us an invaluable education. These are insights that only you have and I know we are all thankful to have the opportunity to learn from you, and to use the knowledge we gain to work toward eliminating the barriers our veterans face in receiving the care they need.
I especially want to thank you, Howard and Jean Somers—not only for your participation today, but for your continued leadership and advocacy on behalf of Daniel, the education you’ve given me, and for fighting for our nation’s veterans and their families. Your work in the face of such a tragedy is an inspiration to all of us. As the father of a 20-year-old son, I can't even imagine such as loss.
Sadly, the report you have shared with us today highlights the struggles faced by not only your son, but the struggle faced by veterans and their families throughout the country. The number of veterans who found themselves in a position similar to Daniel’s is unacceptably high.
Like many, Daniel returned from his service with invisible wounds including Post-Traumatic Stress and Traumatic Brain Injury. He was also afflicted with Gulf War Syndrome.
Like many, he suffered in silence because his attempts to reach out for help through the Department of Veterans Affairs were met with roadblocks and inefficiencies that left him with the feeling that no one cared.
Like many, Daniel tragically took his life rather than continue to struggle with his wounds, his constant pain, and the burdens of his service.
The truth is Daniel wasn’t and isn’t alone. Every day, 22 veterans find themselves with the same horrible choices and make the same decision he did.
As a country, we have failed these men and women who sacrificed so much to serve. The Somers’ experience is evidence that there were steps that should have been taken and highlights systemic problems with the way the VA delivers care.
The House and the Senate have taken the initial steps toward fixing these problems. We will continue to work toward achieving much-needed reforms. However, these reforms will take time, and our veterans who are suffering from the very real pain of post-war mental anguish, shouldn’t have to wait.
While Congress acts, and the VA implements reforms, our veterans and their families should take advantage of the many community resources available to them.
There are an estimated 44,000 volunteer organizations dedicated to helping servicemembers and their families: providing resources, information, and outlets for those who have kept us safe.
Too often, servicemembers and their families are not aware of the services available to them. That is why the Somers initiated Operation Engage America. With greater visibility, the programs offered by extraordinary Americans can reach veterans and their families in time to make a difference.
I had the opportunity to attend the inaugural event at American Legion Post 731 in June of this year.
I have never met a family more dedicated to sharing their story, raising awareness for the invisible wounds our servicemembers suffer, and committed to making a major impact on the way we care for our veterans.
Your determination and resolve in the face of sacrifice and severe adversity is truly inspiring. I thank you, Howard and Jean, for everything you have done, and everything you will continue to do to ensure that we in Congress remain committed to fixing the flaws in the way we treat our veterans.
From time to time in Congress, you see testimony that you know is going to right away make a difference and that is certainly what’s happened today. You can feel very confident that our nation’s heroes will be helped by the time and effort you’ve put in today.
I look forward to continuing to work with you to resolve these issues and to make things right with the veterans the VA treats.