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Before the U.S. House of Representatives Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health Regarding “Oversight Hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs Suicide Prevention Hotline”

September 16, 2008

Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Miller, Distinguished Members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health and honored guests, Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) thanks you for the opportunity to present our views on oversight of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs Suicide Prevention Hotline”. We should also like to thank you for your overall concern about the mental health care of our troops and veterans. With your permission, I shall keep my remarks brief and to the point.

The subject of suicide is extremely difficult to talk about and is a topic that most of us would prefer to avoid. But as uncomfortable as this subject may be to discuss, VVA believes it to be a very real public health concern in our military and veteran communities, and as veterans of the Vietnam war and those who care for them, many of us have known someone who has committed suicide and others who have attempted it.

In 2003 media reports of suicide deaths and suicide attempts among active duty OEF and OIF soldiers and veterans first began to surface after a spate of suicides in Iraq during the first months of the war. Subsequent major television news stories, independent research studies and additional investigative reports (including the release of e-mails from a top-level VA administrator who seemingly suggested not disclosing veteran suicide information to the media) disclosed the high rate of suicides and suicide attempts in our nation’s veteran community. All this culminated in the announcement by VA Secretary Dr. James Peake in the late spring of 2008 that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had formed a blue-ribbon panel of mental health experts to study and develop recommendations to help reduce the number of suicides among America’s veterans

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