AMVETS Leadership commends House Veterans Committee Chairman Takano for making mental health a “top priority”

For Immediate Release

Contact: Miles Migliara 

National Communications Manager 

AMVETS (American Veterans) 

(301) 395-7486  media@amvets.org 

Washington D.C.– AMVETS National leadership commended the chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs on Friday for ordering a long overdue hearing to address the veterans’ mental health crisis and a string of suicides recently committed at veterans’ hospitals.

Congressman Mark Takano pledged to hold hearings and make veterans mental health a “top priority” for the House Committee of Veterans Affairs. Takano, who serves as the committee’s chairman, made the announcement in response to the latest in a string of suicides carried out at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals.

“The decision to hold hearings is a giant leap forward, it’s just saddening that it took yet another tragedy at the very place that’s supposed to be helping veterans,” AMVETS Chief Advocacy Officer and Marine Corps veteran Sherman Gillums said. “This problem has become, as the chairman calls it, a ‘national crisis,’ because it’s been allowed to fester.”

While testifying in front of a joint-hearing of the Senate and House committees on veterans’ affairs, last month, AMVETS National Commander Rege Riley called on Takano and his fellow lawmakers to immediately begin holding hearings. He also asked they create a task force or roundtable dedicated to the issue.

“Our nation’s veterans could not be sending a clearer message that VA mental healthcare is not working for them then by killing themselves in VA parking lots,” Riley told Takano and other members of Congress who were present at the March 7 hearing.

Takano and AMVETS Executive Director Joe Chenelly will discuss the crisis later this month. The meeting was scheduled after March 21st and April 4th request from AMVETS.

“We are not blaming anyone for where we are today. But where we are today is not far from where we were in 2015, and to us that is unacceptable,” Chenelly wrote in the March 21 letter to Takano.

In 2015, Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Takano’s predecessor, then-Chairwoman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Corrine Brown, announced on the act’s one-year anniversary that veteran suicide “would remain a top priority” in a statement that touted the VA’s efforts to implement the Act.

 A key provision of the Act – a third-party evaluation Brown and other lawmakers said would “increase accountability” – the VA quietly submitted to Congress on Dec. 26, 2018. Three and a-half years in the making, it was received 26 days past the deadline required by law – arriving the day after Christmas – when lawmakers and most of their staff members were at home for the holidays.

The evaluation was first made public by MilitaryTimes last month, in a news report titled “This VA report touts ‘positive outcomes’ from its suicide prevention programs — but veteran suicide rates haven’t slowed.” The news report cited AMVETS National Commander Riley, who provided a grim statistic: more than 24,000 veterans committed suicide in the time since Congress passed the Clay Hunt Act to address mental health and suicide among veterans.

“God willing, we won’t be stuck with the same system we have now in 2023, with a new report that highlights only that what (they) keep doing continues not to work,” Riley told MilitaryTimes.

Gillums expressed his disappointment that AMVETS was refused an invitation to a staff-level roundtable held earlier this year, making it among a majority of “The Big 6” veterans service organizations excluded in favor of representatives from a handful of organizations that were seemingly selected at random.

“Nearly five months and more than a quarter of the total working days these legislators were elected to serve will pass. In that time, only a single hearing will have been held to address mental health,” said Gillums of the upcoming hearing. “The only thing that remains to be seen is whether that hearing will make a difference. I believe Chairman Takano’s effort is genuine and not another thinly veiled effort to feign action, appeasing the public, while failing to make the changes that will save the lives of our veterans.”

“AMVETS looks forward to working with Chairman Takano, testifying at the upcoming hearings and continuing to be a leader in the fight against these tragedies and their underlying causes,” Gillums said.

AMVETS is the nation’s largest and oldest Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization that is open to and fights for all veterans who served honorably, including reservists & guardsmen. AMVETS has been a nonpartisan advocate for veterans and their families for more than 70 years. amvets.org 

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April 12th, 2019
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