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Public Statements

Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

JOSHUA OMVIG VETERANS SUICIDE PREVENTION ACT

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 5 minutes.

Mr. Speaker and my colleagues, today we have the first bills that are coming out of the Veterans Committee this year. We are going to have an ambitious agenda for our committee, an agenda that in fact is demanded by the American people.

We have seen in the last few weeks enormous attention paid to the treatment, or lack thereof, that is given to our Nation's veterans, whether they are from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Persian Gulf War or now from Iraq and Afghanistan.

We have seen the Washington Post articles which detailed the problems at Walter Reed. We have seen news magazines have cover stories on how veterans are falling through the cracks of the system. We have seen on ABC News, Bob Woodruff, do a very moving piece on how brain injuries are treated, or perhaps not treated. We have seen stories in the press of homeless, already, from veterans of Iraq.

The American people understand that we are not treating our veterans the way we claim to be. The American people, I think, understand that the treatment of our warriors is a part of the cost of war, and we simply have to provide for those brave men and women who have fought for our Nation's freedom.

So we have an ambitious agenda in front of us, Mr. Speaker. These first items today address some specific areas that demand attention. I thank the Members from across the aisle for their support not only of these bills, but I think for the agenda that we are going to pursue in the future.

And it is time, Mr. Speaker, that we say as a Congress and as a Nation, no matter where we are on this war in Iraq, that when those brave young men and women come back we are going to treat them with all the love and respect and honor and care that American veterans should have. And we make that pledge on both sides of the aisle.

As I said, one of the top priorities of our committee is to address the needs of returning servicemembers from Iraq and Afghanistan, especially in the areas of mental health.

I believe that if we send our citizens off to war, we have to address their health care needs when they return. We cannot say, support our troops, support our troops, support our troops, and then forget them when they come home.

It turns out, I think unsurprisingly, that veterans suffer a higher risk of suicide than the general population. The stress of combat combined with the stigma that exists for servicemembers and veterans seeking mental health care can have disastrous consequences. It has already occurred for returning veterans, maybe a couple hundred. We must do everything possible to improve the VA's mental health services and its ability to detect and help those veterans most at risk.

This bill, H.R. 327, is an important step in the right direction. It comes to us from our colleague from Iowa (Mr. Boswell), who has taken the tragedy from a family in Iowa and turned it into constructive measures so that tragedy will not be repeated in other parts of the Nation. And we thank Mr. Boswell and his colleague, Mr. Braley from Iowa, for bringing this to our attention.

This bill will provide important tools to the Veterans Administration to assist the Department in strengthening suicide prevention, education, and awareness programs within the VA by mandating a comprehensive program for suicide prevention among veterans.

Again, I thank Mr. Boswell for introducing this bill. I thank Mr. Miller and his colleagues for supporting it.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I say to Mr. Ramstad, we thank you for your passion. On the Veterans Committee, we intend to use the concern of America now for PTSD of returning veterans to argue that we need parity for all mental health issues in America.

So we thank you for your leadership on this. Thank you for reminding us of Corporal Schulze. We will use this as a reminder of what we have to do for our veterans.

Thank you again for your passion.

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Mr. FILNER. Mr. Speaker, I just want to thank Mr. Miller, the ranking member of the House subcommittee, for your courtesy today, for your leadership on these issues, and for bringing members of your caucus to the floor. I think it is very important that all of us have an understanding of these issues. And the more that we all understand it and communicate that to the American people, we are, I think, better as a Nation. So thank you for the cooperation and the support.

I think we all were moved by Mr. Boswell and Mr. Braley's presentations. In the name of Joshua Omvig, we ask for support from our colleagues.

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