(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed concern for the mental health challenges that lie ahead for veterans during a hearing entitled, “VA Mental Health Care: Ensuring Timely Access to High-Quality Care.”
“Over the coming year, VA has its work cut out for it,” said Senator Murray. “This includes continuing to work towards implementing the Mental Health ACCESS Act, meeting the goals of hiring 1,600 new mental health care professionals, continuing to bring down wait times and improving access to care, and partnering with community providers to ensure that veterans have access to the care they need.”
In February, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide. The report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, while the estimated total number of Veterans who have died by suicide has increased to over 8,000 a year.
Senator Murray’s Mental Health ACCESS Act was signed into law by President Obama as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The ACCESS Act creates a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expands eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services to family members; strengthens oversight of DoD Mental Health Care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES); improves training and education for our health care providers; creates more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and requires VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services. Making mental health a top priority during her time as Chairman, Senator Murray crafted the amendment after a major study by the RAND Corporation showed that there are serious gaps and a lack of consistency in military services’ suicide prevention programs.
Senator Murray’s full remarks:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, I really appreciate you holding this hearing. Providing timely access to high-quality care is extremely important for our veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
“I appreciate the witnesses coming to testify before us to help further the conversation that this Committee has been having for the past several years.
“I know it is not always easy to do, and we appreciate your courage in coming here so that we can learn from you.
“VA and Congress have made important strides towards addressing the invisible wounds of war. But we still have a lot to do.
“VA’s recent report on suicides among the nation’s veterans is very troubling. And I am quite concerned that my home state of Washington appears to have a very high percentage of the known veteran suicides.
“Over the coming year, VA has its work cut out for it. This includes continuing to work towards implementing the Mental Health ACCESS Act, meeting the goals of hiring 1,600 new mental health care professionals, continuing to bring down wait times and improving access to care, and partnering with community providers to ensure that veterans have access to the care they need.
“Army, and all of DoD, also have significant challenges ahead. Just a few of these challenges are reforming the IDES process and the diagnosis of mental health conditions, addressing the problems with developing and integrated electronic health record, and ending the unacceptably high rates of military sexual trauma.
“I look forward to continuing to work with VA, the Pentagon, and my colleagues on this Committee towards meeting these goals.”