Good morning, and thank you, Senator Smith, for that kind introduction—and thanks to all of you for joining us at this important event.
VA has been an active partner with the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, the Surgeon General, and the National Action Alliance in developing the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.
Over the past four years, we at VA have been grateful for the President's strong and decisive leadership for Veterans and Servicemembers—and particularly for his support to improve mental health and reduce suicides.
We are fortunate to have over 20,000 mental health professionals working at VA, the largest single mental health network in the country. Our budget has grown overall by 40 percent in the past four years, and we are providing innovative and leading-edge care at more than 900 locations across the U.S.
Last week, President Obama issued his historic Executive Order to further improve mental health services for Veterans, Servicemembers, and military families, including:
Our efforts at VA center on expanding access to high-quality mental healthcare and building on our historic partnership with the Department of Defense to combat suicide among Servicemembers and Veterans.
And we know VA care and our Crisis Line work! Our system of care is the best in the country. Since its inception, one element of that care system, called the Veterans Crisis Line, has received more than 655,000 calls; we've made over 93,000 referrals for care, and rescued nearly 23,000 callers from potential suicide.
But history shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the wars have ended—increasing the need to provide high-quality mental health care that our Veterans have earned and deserve.
And we have learned through experience that we still miss many opportunities to prevent suicide if only we had been able to get someone into care to prevent a crisis. Time and again, after a suicide, we learn that coworkers, family, and friends of Veterans knew that "something wasn't right," or that a Veteran was having difficulties. But they didn't recognize the warning signs, or they didn't act on them, or they didn't have the skills to convince someone to seek help.
Let me give you an example of the success we've had when we get it right.
Recently, the Veterans Crisis Line got a call from a Veteran's mother who was several states away from her son but knew that something was wrong. He was a Post-9/11 Veteran who had difficulty adjusting to civilian life, and she couldn't reach him. She had received an e-mail that worried her, and she was afraid that he was thinking about killing himself. She had talked with his girlfriend who had recently left him, and the girlfriend wasn't able to tell her where he was. She wanted to travel to him and make sure he was OK, but she was afraid that she wouldn't get there in time. Instead, she called the Veterans Crisis Line, where trained staff sent help immediately to his address. He was found intoxicated and, in fact, planning to take his own life.
Today, this Veteran is still alive, engaged in care with VA, and involved with an Iraq/Afghanistan Coordinator at his VA Medical Center.
There are thousands of success stories like this, made possible by the Veterans Crisis Line and the VA system of care. But we have much more work to do. We need to help people recognize when something is wrong and know what to do when they have recognized it.
What we have learned is that it is going to take all of us: VA, DoD, community health providers, family members, friends, employers and co-workers, neighbors, faith-based organizations, and Veteran peers to make a difference for Servicemembers and Veterans transitioning back into their communities.
And you can help. Recognizing the warning signs that someone is having trouble and knowing where to turn for help will save lives.
Today, VA is releasing a new Public Service Announcement called Side by Side, focused on the important role family, friends and community play in supporting Veterans who may be in crisis. Let's take a look, together, at the screen to my side . . .
The VA is here to help Veterans' families and friends reach out to their loved one.
We are urging everyone—community-based organizations, Veterans service organizations, healthcare providers, private companies, and other government agencies, to connect Veterans to our Veterans Crisis Line via:
Working together, leveraging our resources, we can stand Side By Side to stop suicides. It's a matter of hope, of care, and of community action.
It is a privilege for VA to be a part of the National Alliance to combat suicide in America.
It is now my honor to introduce Secretary of the Army John McHugh, a true friend of our Servicemembers and Veterans and the public-sector co-chair of the aptly named Action Alliance.