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Public Statements

USA Today - Failing Our Troops

Op-Ed

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By Representative Charles Rangel

In the United States, suicide has become the seventh leading cause of death for men and the fifteenth for women. Every year, there are nearly a million suicide attempts. I am especially alarmed that veterans account for 20% of all suicides. Nearly eighteen veterans and one active-duty soldier take their lives each day. This is simply unacceptable.

As a combat veteran, I understand the horror of war and its lingering impact on our soldiers when they return home. With depression and untreated mental illnesses being the major causes of suicide, it is important that we recognize the signs of depression and take action to help those who are in need before it is too late. The mental health of our soldiers and veterans should be our top priority.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs has recently developed successful outreach campaigns such as AboutFace, the Veterans Crisis Line, and the Make the Connection, to assist service members with the many challenges they face as they transition into civilian life. Together, these campaigns have been very successful in providing tangible support to military personnel and families.

Preparing soldiers for their return to civilian life and helping them enter today's challenging job market will dramatically decrease the veteran suicide rate. To that end, I authored the Mandatory Transition Assistance Act to require that all soldiers and sailors undergo enhanced Transition Assistance Program counseling when they return home. In the past, this has been voluntary. Making it mandatory will save lives as a prolonged transition back to civilian life can lead to depression and suicide.

It is also critical that we ensure veterans have access to essential care that can alleviate their sufferings. Right now, veterans cannot conveniently access their VA health professionals because of a law that prohibits the practice of telemedicine across state lines. I introduced the Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support Act to make it easier for veterans to get necessary medical treatment by removing the outdated and cumbersome location requirements that are currently in place.

In addition to addressing the symptoms and providing treatments, we must have a serious discussion about the root causes of veteran suicides. Over two million soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq in the last decade, nearly half of them for more than one tour of duty.

Some have been deployed up to six times, causing an increase in the number of veterans with poor mental health. These conditions include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury that arise due to the stress of combat.

Instituting a fair and universal draft would go a long way to reduce the number of soldiers returning home with these problems. Currently, less than 1% of the population serves in our military. Requiring 30 million people in the United States between the ages of 18 and 25 to perform two years of national service, either in the armed services or in civilian life, would mean that fewer soldiers will have to serve multiple tours. This could decrease the incidents of veteran suicides.

In Congress I am committed to passing legislation that will improve the mental health of our nation's truest heroes. We owe it to each one to make sure that they receive the treatment and care that they deserve. We have a moral obligation to combat this epidemic.


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