This morning, Rep. Mike Bost (R-Ill.), the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, delivered the following opening statement, as prepared, at the start of today’s Committee hearing on veteran suicide prevention and mental health initiatives at the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA):
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the opportunity today to discuss the tragedy of veteran suicide and how to prevent it once and for all.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness month.
And, this September there is cause for both celebration and caution.
Two weeks ago, V.A. released the 2021 veteran suicide data report.
For the first time in a long time, that report contained good news.
In particular, it showed a 7.2 percent decrease in veteran suicide in 2019, the most recent year for which data is available.
According to V.A., that is unheard of progress.
But, as we all know, the last two years have brought unheard of challenges as well.
Those challenges include the COVID-19 crisis and – more recently – the crisis caused by the Biden Administration’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Veterans who served in Afghanistan – and even those who served elsewhere – have been under immense stress watching the tragic events of the last several weeks unfold there.
I have felt some of that stress as a veteran myself.
According to VA, compared to the same time period in 2020, from August 13th to September 15th, the Veterans Crisis Line experienced a:
• 6 percent increase in calls;
• 32 percent increase in chats; and
• 71 percent increase in texts
Those increases are a direct result of the crisis in Afghanistan.
They paint a stark picture of the pain that many veterans are experiencing in this moment.
It is our responsibility as members of this Committee to do everything in our power to support those veterans, and to make sure they have what they need to heal and move forward.
That is why my fellow Republicans and I have been calling on Chairman Takano to schedule an oversight hearing to address the impact the Afghanistan crisis is having on the veteran community.
This is not that hearing.
Our calls have gone unanswered.
But, we must use this opportunity nevertheless to shine a light on those in need.
That is why I am honored to have Nick Armendariz testifying as the Minority witness today.
Nick is an Army veteran who served three combat tours in Afghanistan.
He transitioned out the military 8 years ago, in 2013.
He has been frank about the battles he has faced since then with his own mental health.
And, he will be frank today about just how devastating the last several weeks have been for him and for many other veterans.
Nick, thank you.
Thank you for your service in uniform.
And, thank you for the service you are doing here today.
Your pain is not just your own.
It is shared by many of our brothers and sisters in arms across the country.
By giving voice to your experience, you are powerfully showing other veterans that they are not alone – and that there is strength and hope on the other side of every struggle.
It really is okay not to be okay.
If you are a veteran who is watching this right now who needs help, please know help is available to you anytime by:
• calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1;
• texting 8-3-8-2-5-5;
• or visiting veterans crisis line dot net.
With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
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