Congressional hearing puts focus on rise of suicides among veterans
By JONATHAN NG | Boston Herald | Published: May 9, 2019
WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs “cannot adequately confront” the persistent wave of suicide deaths among active-duty military and veterans, U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch said, as a bipartisan group of Capitol Hill lawmakers pledged to tackle the issue.
“Regrettably, the suicide crisis that has endured and markedly increased in our veterans community over the past decade stands as a stark reminder that we must redouble our efforts to address continued gaps in veterans’ care,” Lynch said during a congressional hearing Wednesday.
A recent VA report found that the suicide rate was 1 1/2 times greater for veterans than non-veteran adults, with more than 6,000 veteran suicides each year from 2008 to 2016.
“That’s a stunning number,” said Georgia U.S. Rep. Jody Hice. “We know that many men and women fear coming forward for mental health care because of fear of judgement, being passed over for promotion or affecting their security clearances. This is unacceptable. I want to hear how we are changing the culture so that these men and women feel safe to seek help.”
Lynch said, “To the men and women of our nation’s armed services and those who have retired from military service: We continue to stand with you. You have fought and sacrificed for your country, and now it’s our job in Congress to fight for you.”
In 2014, there was a total of 61 Massachusetts veteran suicides, according to the VA’s latest data report. The state Department of Veterans Services says its Statewide Advocacy for Veterans’ Empowerment program has a primary mission “to prevent suicide and mental health distress by proactively identifying issues facing veterans when they return from service and provide them with access to benefits and services which will result in positive transitions back to civilian life.”
“DVS is committed to supporting the men and women who protect our daily freedoms when they return home,” said department spokesman Paul Moran, adding that the Bay State “is also the only state in the country which has a Veterans Service Officer in each community.”
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