Subcommittee Hearing Examines Strategies to Prevent Suicide Among U.S. Servicemembers and Veterans
Washington D.C. (November 17, 2021)—Today, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security, held a hearing to examine how the Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and community organizations are working to strengthen mental health and curb the alarming rate of suicides among our nation’s military servicemembers and veterans.
“The suicide epidemic among our military and veteran communities is an enduring public health crisis that also carries profound implications for U.S. national security,” Rep. Lynch said in his opening statement.
The Subcommittee heard testimony from Alyssa Hundrup, Director of Health Care at the Government Accountability Office; Brigadier General (ret.) Jack Hammond, Executive Director of Home Base; Dr. Carla Stumpf-Patton, Senior Director for Postvention Programs at Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors; and Staff Sergeant (ret.) Johnny Jones, member of the Board of Directors for Boot Campaign
The hearing was personal for Members and witnesses, who shared their own experiences of losing a loved one to suicide and why that has driven them to help military servicemembers, veterans, and their families.
- Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, Chairwoman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, shared that after her brother returned from military service during the Vietnam War, he struggled for years and later took his own life. She explained, “That was years ago, but the pain of my brother’s passing is still with me today.”
- Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, who lost his father, a Marine veteran, to suicide, discussed the importance of removing perceived stigmas for family members who have lost someone to suicide, stating “the way we avoid it is not to try and repress it as a culture, but to accept it—not that it has to happen, but we can address it.”
- Dr. Stumpf-Patton testified about the loss of her husband to suicide, stating that after his death, she felt “completely alone, with no direction on surviving my devastating loss.” She added, “So many times, I just stopped looking for help. Rather than asking for support, after being turned away time and time again, I just had to find ways to manage on my own.”
- Staff Sergeant Jones shared that his best friend in high school, a fellow Marine, died by suicide in 2012 after not receiving sufficient help from the VA and deciding that “taking his own life was the only way to ensure he no longer hurt or let down those he loved.”
Members and witnesses discussed the need for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs to work collaboratively with private-sector organizations to address the many complex risk factors that can contribute to suicide.
- Brigadier General Hammond testified the Biden Administration’s new Military and Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Strategy is “spot on” but must be followed quickly by “actionable plans and funding strategies” to expand access to mental health care.
- In response to a question from Chairman Lynch, Dr. Stumpf-Patton testified that “Suicide is a very complex, widespread problem that cannot be ... answered or responded to with any one single agency or organization. Ms. Hundrup added that there is “not one single entity that’s going to solve this” and that further examination of how the VA and DOD engage with community-based partners “would certainly be warranted.”
Witnesses testified that military family members who lose a loved one to suicide experience significant grief, trauma, and require greater support and care.
- Brigadier General (ret.) Hammond testified that “it is clear that we have millions of military family members deeply affected by the physical and invisible wounds of war.” In response to a question from Rep. DeSaulnier, he added that military families are “some of the most injured people we deal with—far more than any Navy SEAL or Green Beret.”
- Dr. Stumpf-Patton testified that “the emotional crisis” experienced by servicemembers and veterans who die by suicide does “not simply disappear with their suicide, but rather is often transferred and absorbed by those coping with the death.”
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
There are specially trained responders ready to help servicemembers and veterans 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
Servicemembers and veterans can:
- Dial 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1 to talk to someone;
- Send a text message to 838255 to connect with a VA responder;
- Start a confidential online chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24/7 for anyone at 800-273-8255.