WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of six Senators called on Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to do more to stem the “unacceptable” level of suicides among veterans currently estimated to be 18 per day. The call came in a letter sent to the Administration on Friday.
“Too many of our brave men and women in uniform return home from war only to struggle with the trauma of their experience and, tragically, take their own lives,” Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) said Tuesday. “It is imperative that the Department of Veterans Affairs do everything possible to lower the rate of suicides for veterans under its care. Our veterans fought for us and it is our duty to fight for them during their times of personal trial. My colleagues and I are committed to working with Secretary Shinseki to support needed reforms of the Department of Veterans Affairs to better serve our heroes.”
“I am very concerned with the high suicide rates among our nation’s veterans,” Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said. “It is our duty as Americans to honor the men and women who have fought to protect our country and that means making sure they have the care they need when they return to civilian life. I will continue to do all that I can to support our returning troops.”
“Sadly, too many of our troops who have risked their lives to protect our freedoms are now taking their own lives,” Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said. “While we can never truly repay the debt we owe our heroes, we have an obligation to strengthen and improve the Department of Veterans Affairs programs for when they return. We must act to stop this crisis of veteran suicides and ensure that our brave veterans have the care and help they need.”
“The past decade has placed heavy burdens on our military and their families, and the stresses of military service, both physical and mental, can be a challenge to overcome. It’s time for the Department of Veterans Affairs to place a priority on reducing the disturbing rise in the veteran suicide rate. I look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to provide greater support for those who have sacrificed so much in service to our country,” Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said.
“After sending service members to war, we have the responsibility to care for our veterans,” Senator Bob Casey (D-Pa.), said. “With an alarming veteran suicide rate of eighteen per day, and around one thousand attempts per month, the Department of Veterans Affairs needs to take account of the suicide prevention programs that currently exist and find ways improve them so that all of our returning veterans receive the care, training and support they need and deserve. We stand ready to give them the necessary assistance to do so.”
“The disturbingly high rate of suicide among veterans who have returned home from combat presents a stark reminder that the scars from the frontlines are not just physical,” Senator Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) said. The men and women who have served our country deserve the highest quality of care, and it is evident more must be done to address this grave problem and prevent such tragic deaths.”
The letter is pasted below and can be downloaded here:
June 17, 2011
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We write to express our extreme concern about the suicide rate among veterans enrolled within the Department of Veterans Affairs, a concern we know that you share. Media sources report a rate of eighteen veteran suicides per day, with around 1,000 additional attempted suicides every month. We are sure you share our opinion that this rate is unacceptable.
In his testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Deputy Secretary Gould answered a question from the Chair on behalf of the Department about the recent Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in May that ordered you to work with the courts to revamp the mental health care. While Deputy Secretary Gould contested statistical points cited in the ruling related to the Department’s overall capacity, he conceded, “there are things the VA can do better, especially in terms of reaching veterans in rural areas.”
We are confident the Department will make wise decisions about its mental health system going forward as you work tirelessly on lowering the veteran suicide rate. We believe the only measure of success on this issue will be a substantial reduction in the rate of veteran suicides and ask that you provide us with your plan to address this grave concern. We ask that you review the current suicide prevention programs and let us know what adjustments are needed to make such programs more effective. We look forward to your recommendations to achieve this result.
Chris Coons Johnny Isakson
Kirsten Gillibrand Bob Corker
Bob Casey, Jr. Jerry Moran