January 31, 2024

Cassidy Delivers Opening Remarks During Veterans’ Mental Health Hearing

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. today served as the top Republican during a U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on veterans’ mental health. During his opening remarks, Cassidy highlighted the need to address veteran suicide and for increased oversight on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) failure to adequately meet the needs of those who served.

“Veterans in Louisiana and across the country, along with their family members, and caregivers rely on receiving high-quality care provided by VA and Vet Centers,” said Dr. Cassidy. 

“You’ll sometimes meet the spouse of a vet, and he or she will say… ‘I don’t know where to go. I know there’s a problem, but I’m not sure what to do,’” said Dr. Cassidy. “Well, the Vet Centers are obviously a place. That’s where you can go.”

In September, Cassidy grilled the Executive Director for Suicide Prevention at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), Matthew Miller, after an Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report found that a 2021 veteran suicide was improperly handled. The report also found that VA employees interfered with the OIG investigation into the death. VA responded to the OIG findings by moving the executive director of the Veterans Crisis Line to a senior position in the secretary’s office.

Cassidy has long championed veteran mental health reform, including introducing a resolution to establish “Vets Get Outside Day” to battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and suicide. In 2022, the Senate unanimously passed Cassidy’s Solid Start Act to strengthen the VA’s Solid Start program to contact every veteran three times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty. The program helps connect veterans with VA programs and benefits, including mental health resources. Cassidy also introduced the Mental Health Reform Reauthorization Act of 2022 to reauthorize and improve Cassidy’s historic 2016 mental health reform package.

Click here to watch Cassidy’s full remarks. His remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Thank you, Chairman Tester and thank you to our witnesses for being here today to discuss Vet Centers.

Veterans mental health and suicide prevention is among my top priorities, and in addition to Vet Centers, access to comprehensive mental health care and upstream crisis prevention play important roles in the holistic system of services available to our veterans. I was pleased to see VA recently announced it will award another $50 million to community organizations to help prevent veteran suicide under the Staff Sergeant Parker Gordon Fox Grant Program, which was part of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act. 

Vet Centers have been instrumental in bridging the gap between veterans, their families, and the necessary mental health care and readjustment counseling they need. In the past year, nearly 250,000 veterans, service members, and their families were able to receive counseling at VA’s over 300 Vet Centers around the nation.

Vet Centers receive high trust and satisfaction scores among veterans based on the overall quality of services they are receiving. More importantly, they continually succeed in building access to social and psychological services in rural areas that may be more difficult for veterans and their families to access.

According to the written testimony from the GAO and the Office of Inspector General, there are some challenges that Vet Centers continue to encounter. Among these challenges are outreach, staffing, and recruitment. I also am interested in hearing more about how Vet Centers interact with the rest of the VHA ecosystem, where I have a higher level of concern about the effectiveness of the VA in supporting veterans’ mental health needs. This is one reason why I will soon be introducing a bill that would create an organization, called VetPAC, that would help Congress better understand how the VA is addressing issues like mental health and suicide prevention in a more holistic manner. This would help us work with individuals like our witnesses in front of us today to truly address these important priorities for our nation’s veterans.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on their ideas for improvement in these areas.

Veterans in Louisiana and across the country, along with their family members, and caregivers rely on receiving high-quality care provided by VA and Vet Centers. I am committed to working with the Department on finding solutions that help the facilities and staff handle sudden influxes of veterans and family members, while making certain that veterans nationwide are receiving the care they deserve.

With that, I look forward to hearing today’s testimony. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.