According to a recent U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimate, 22 veterans commit suicide each day — that’s about 8,000 each year. This extraordinarily alarming figure makes it quite obvious that mental health must be a part of comprehensive approach to the care of our troops and veterans.
As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I frequently hear from veterans about the problems they face, from long waits for a VA disability claims decision to difficulty finding civilian employment to limited access to quality mental health care. Clearly, there are a multitude of serious challenges that veterans face once they return home.
Recent reports from the VA inspector general have highlighted problems at the Atlanta VA Medical Center. The reports link three suicides to mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center, and that is both tragic and heartbreaking. Even though the hospital has responded and has taken steps to address this unacceptable mismanagement, we must follow up. We also need to know whether similar incidents are happening elsewhere around the country.
While I believe that the VA is committed to addressing this issue, it is critically important that we do better. Through my work on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, I have asked the VA to take the necessary steps to maximize its resources to prevent more suicides and reverse this alarming trend, and I will continue to work to see this process through.
One important part of the solution is community partners, and I encourage the VA to continue to utilize these resources effectively to provide quality mental health care. As one of the recent reports highlighted, several veterans “fell through the cracks” because of a failure to follow through in each and every case. I am dedicated to ensuring that no veteran falls through the cracks when they seek the care they have earned.
After more than a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, we expect to see more than 1 million service members transition from active-duty to veteran status in the next few years. We must see to it that the Department of Veterans Affairs lives up to the promises we have made to our service members and veterans who have shown such bravery in the face of tyranny around the world.
I will continue to work diligently to ensure that the VA always embodies its motto, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan.”
As I spend this Memorial Day weekend commemorating the sacrifices made by our military throughout our history, I will also remember the men and women who need our support once they return home from the battlefield.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) of east Cobb is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.