America is facing a national public health crisis— this is not hyperbole. It’s a somber reality.
Each day 20 veterans, servicemembers, reservists, and members of the National Guard die by suicide— totaling more than 7,300 deaths per year. That’s 1,800 more deaths per year than the 5,429 servicemembers who have been killed in action since 2001.
Both numbers are surprising and further evidence of a frustrating and persistent problem that we’ve failed to adequately address. We all have a responsibility to act because there’s no excuse for failing these veterans here at home.
With recent reports of veteran suicides, three on VA property in just five days and six this year alone, it’s clear we are not doing enough to support veterans in crisis. While these incidents may be alarming, they do not tell the full story of veteran suicide in our country. Too many Americans have been personally touched by this troubling trend—for me, it was my own uncle, a Vietnam veteran, who died by suicide.
My Republican colleague, Ranking Member (R-Tenn.), often says we haven’t “moved the needle” far enough to reduce veteran suicide. He’s right, and it’s time for Congress to look at this crisis with fresh eyes.
In 2015, Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, but this well intentioned effort hasn’t done enough. We need to understand why this legislation hasn’t done more to prevent suicides. We need to expand our understanding of mental health among veterans. We need to commit to providing the resources needed to implement a comprehensive plan. Most importantly, Americans must hear from and listen to our veterans.
Ultimately, it’s up to all of us to reduce and prevent veteran suicide because this is not a problem VA can solve alone. This mission will require us to reexamine our approach to suicide prevention, exhaust our research possibilities, break the stigma faced by those seeking mental health services, and expand the health care and support we offer veterans. Americans are ready to meet this challenge.
Already, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs has made suicide prevention a top priority because the truth is that there’s still so much we don’t know about veteran suicide. Reversing this crisis will require us to shine a national spotlight on veteran suicide. That’s why we will be holding a series of hearings to understand the root causes driving veteran suicide, hear from the families who have lost loved ones, and listen to the clinicians and social workers who are on the front lines battling to end veteran suicide.
Our Committee hearing on April 29 will begin this work by learning from VA directly about the most recent suicides at VA hospitals. In addition, I’m working with my colleague on the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel and Readiness, Chairwoman (D-Calif.), to bring VA and DOD together for a joint hearing on suicide prevention. These hearings will be the first of many steps we take together to determine what actions we can take as a nation to reach veterans in need of assistance.
As Americans, we are proud of the service and sacrifice veterans have made for our country, but a polite “Thank You for Your Service” isn’t enough for our veterans in crisis. Instead, we must thank and honor our veterans with action, work together to deliver top quality health care, provide community support, and ensure we offer a stable transition out of military service and into quality, sustainable employment.
Truly thanking veterans for their service means helping them when they need it most and rise above political opportunism to support veterans in crisis.
Takano is chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee.
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The nation needs to do more to reduce veteran suicide
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