House Committee Addresses Suicide Risks Among Veterans

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Representatives from the Department of Veterans Affairs and veterans' groups testified on Wednesday ata House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing examining the issue ofsuicide, CQ Today reports. The latest statistics gathered by VA donot "demonstrate an increased risk of suicide among (Iraq and Afghanistan) veterans compared tothe age and gender-matched American population as a whole," according toIra Katz, deputy chief for mental health care services at VA. The hearingfollowed recent media reports indicating that veterans returning from those warzones have nearly double the risk of committing suicide as non-veterans (Yoest,CQ Today, 12/12).

Katz said VA has made improvements in its efforts to reduce the suicide rate ofveterans with the implementation of "a major suicide prevention program,the most comprehensive in the nation" (Hefling, AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/13). Katz also stressed the importance ofadjusting for factors that could impact suicide data, saying, "Those whocome to the VA for care tend to be older, less socio-economically well off, andmore likely to have a mental health condition or another chronic illness."He added that it is "by no means surprising that those receiving care fromVA have higher suicide rates that those in the general population" (CQToday, 12/12).

Mike Bowman, a parent of an Illinois National Guard servicemember thatcommitted suicide in 2005 after serving in Iraq,raised concern about the lack of a comprehensive system that keeps track ofsuicide among military personnel returning from Iraqand Afghanistan.Committee Chair Bob Filner (D-Calif.) questioned why comprehensive tracking wasnot in place already. According to AP/Newsday, VA tracks suicidesamong Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have been discharged,while the Department of Defense tracks the number of suicides thattake place in Iraq and Afghanistan(AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/13).

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Peake Promises To Improve Mental Health Services

In related news, JamesPeake, President Bush's nominee for VA secretary, said he wants to work quicklyto improve mental health care services for veterans, AP/Newsday reports. In a 22-page disclosure submitted tothe Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and acquired by the AssociatedPress, Peake said he wants to increase staff at VA clinics to help fightservicemembers' resistance to seek treatment for depression. Peake also said hewants to implement improved plans for veterans' health care in times of war andother national crises.

In addition, Peake said that he would work to retain top VA officials throughmeasures that do not include performance bonuses awarded without regard tomerit, as was the case under former VA Secretary Jim Nicholson, AP/Newsdayreports. The Senate committee on Thursday will vote on his nomination (Yen,AP/Long Island Newsday, 12/13).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health PolicyReport is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J.Kaiser Family Foundation.

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