Congresswoman Martha Roby

Representing the 2nd District of Alabama

Roby to VA Official: Veteran Suicide Rate is More Than a Number.

March 7, 2019
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Martha Roby (R-AL), a member of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, today participated in a hearing regarding veteran mental health and homelessness.

Currently, approximately 20 veterans die by suicide every day – a rate 1.5 times higher than those who have not served in the military. During the hearing, Representative Roby highlighted the unfortunate state of mental health care services at the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System and made the case that the failure to treat veterans properly for mental health in some cases results in suicide, especially for those who seek out care and do not even receive follow-up.

Representative Roby addressed Dr. David Carroll, Executive Director of Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health Operations, saying in part:

“Our veteran suicide rate can’t just be a number. Only six of those 20 people who commit suicide each day received VA health care in the two years prior to their death. I want to make a suggestion as to why that’s the case.

“A reason some of these veterans are not accessing care through the VA is that they no longer have trust in the VA system to take care of them… I am sad to report the number of times veterans have come to CAVHCS seeking care for mental health, there was no follow-up, and it led to a loss of life. We have a real problem in some of our health care systems across this country. The VA system has failed our veterans time and time again, and they have given up.”

The full text of Representative Roby’s remarks is below.

Thank you all for being here today. I want to take a minute, Madame Chair, and I want everyone to look around the room. I want you to count the people. Now, I want you to imagine if we all came back here tomorrow and 20 people weren’t here. Think about the emptiness in this room. Then, imagine if we came back the next day, and 20 more people were missing.

Veteran suicide rates can’t just be a number. I want to focus on the fact that only six of those 20 people have received VA health care in the two years prior to their death. I want to make a suggestion about why that’s the case.

I know there are some VA facilities in this country that are better than others and execute on a daily basis better than others. But, I want you to look at the facilities, like the one in my district in Central Alabama, and all of the problems we have – and there are many. I want to suggest to you that a reason some of these veterans are not accessing care through the VA is that they no longer have trust in the VA system to take care of them.

Word gets around very quickly when a veteran walks into a health care facility and is ignored, treated badly, or when their friend who went for mental health care received no follow-up and committed suicide.

The VA has lost faith with our veteran community, and I hear all of the things you’re saying about improvements to mental health care, but I think sometimes what happens around here in Washington, in this bureaucracy, is that there are a lot of good ideas, but there’s never really an effort to drill down on what is happening in these individual health clinics.

You also talked about same-day care. We can talk about statistics, but I’ll tell you, the anecdotal evidence is sometimes much stronger. I think sometimes folks here at the top level are not truly understanding what is happening on the ground in these individual health care facilities.

I’m sad to report the number of times veterans have come to the Central Alabama VA seeking care for mental health, there was no follow-up, and it led to a loss of life. So, I would say to you, as there are recruitment efforts from varying veterans service organizations to get veterans plugged into the VA if they are seeking care.

We have a real problem in some of our health care systems across this country where we have failed our veterans time and time again, and they have given up. This is a contributing factor to the 20 people a day who are committing suicide.

Our one-star rating at CAVHCS is largely due to the veteran’s experience, and so, when you are talking about reaching out to health care systems to help them with this issue, I invite you to Alabama to work directly with leadership there to execute this.

This is not rocket science. Being kind to someone who has put their life on the line for freedom and liberty should not be something that takes more than two seconds to correct, so I invite you to please come help us in Central Alabama get this right for our veterans.

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