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Floor Statement of Senator Max Baucus

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BAUCUS. I wish to take a moment to shine the light on a dark topic in my home State of Montana.

On Sunday I read something that hit me in the gut. The Billings Gazette reported that during 2010 at least 210 Montanans committed suicide. That is according to the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. That was 2010. In 2011 that number was 225. Another 5,600 Montanans attempted to kill themselves last year. That is a startling average of about 15 per day. In a State with roughly 1 million residents, that is nearly twice the national average.

We in Montana have a saying that I think is quite accurate. Montana is really one big small town. We know each other, only about 1 or 2 degrees of separation. You know what. If you ask if we know Uncle Joe, we all know each other. We know somebody who knows someone very close to us. We know each other's families.

These numbers are devastating. Among the victims of suicide in Montana are children, parents, neighbors, friends, and sadly many are also our military veterans who return home only to be held behind an invisible enemy line known as PTSD.

In Montana, we are a proud home to more veterans than nearly any other State per capita. We also had more Montanans volunteer for service after 9/11 than anywhere else in the country per capita. There are nearly 300 Montanans serving in Afghanistan today. We are proud of these men and women, and we are grateful. We take our responsibility to honor them very seriously. So the statistics are all the more alarming. They are very important.

In 2011 a report from the Center for a New American Security found that from 2005 to 2010, all across the country a servicemember took his or her life almost every 36 hours.

Matt Kuntz, the executive director of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, has described Montana's suicide epidemic as a public health crisis. Matt knows all too well that behind each and every one of those numbers is a family and community devastated by the loss. Matt is a veteran himself. In 2007 he lost his stepbrother, an Iraq war veteran. I know Matt, and I knew his stepbrother. He lost his stepbrother to suicide. His stepbrother was so scared, so frightened to go back to Iraq after serving three or four tours of duty. He knew--he said to Matt: If I go back, I know I am going to die. So many of my friends and buddies have died. I know if I go back, I am going to die too.

That caused him to be very depressed, and it caused his suicide. So my friend Matt took action. He dedicated himself to raising awareness. Largely because of Matt's dedication, the Montana National Guard led the way with a successful pilot program to increase screening of veterans both before and after deployment. That is natural in Montana because, as I said earlier, we are really one big small town. We know each other, we want to take action, and we want to get results.

I was proud to champion particularly the 2010 Defense authorization bill that took the Montana National Guard model, which we developed in Montana. With the DOD Defense bill, it is now implemented nationwide. Now every branch of the military has implemented screenings. We started screening before kids go over, as soon as they come back, 6 weeks later after they are back, another 6 months later after they are back, just continually screening, personal screenings. Thousands of health care providers have been trained under this legislation and, most importantly, thousands of servicemembers are now getting personal and private one-on-one attention from a trained health care provider.

There is still a lot more to be done, and I am proud we took steps to advance the ball yesterday by passing the Mental Health ACCESS Act as an amendment to the current bill. I applaud Senator Murray for her work on the measure, and I am proud to be a cosponsor. This provision creates comprehensive standardized suicide prevention within the DOD. It expands eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans. It creates more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities, and it requires the VA to establish accurate, reliable measures for mental health services.

When duty calls, we in Montana answer proudly. This is about taking care of these men and women just as they have taken care of us. These people put their lives on the line in the name of our State, our country, and our freedom. We have a responsibility to try to do all we can to help them return to their families and live a reasonable, healthful life back at home. Too many Montanans are suffering in silence, as in other parts of the country.

Thank you for the opportunity to bring a voice to this important cause. Thank you, Matt, and thank you all for taking action in the Senate to further our efforts to give servicemembers and veterans the care and support they deserve.

I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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