Categorized | Health

Akaka focusing on invisible wounds of war

MEDIA RELEASE

U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, held an oversight hearing Thursday, March 4 on veteran suicide and mental health issues.

Akaka, who has championed a number of veterans’ mental health and suicide-prevention bills which are now law, sought to hear from veterans and VA leadership on the implementation of these measures.

PTSD and other mental health issues are major wounds of the current conflicts. Veterans in Hawaii and across the nation count on VA to receive treatment and care for service-related mental health issues.

More than 1,700 veterans in Hawaii receive disability compensation for service-related mental health issues. From fiscal year 2002 to the fourth quarter of 2009, VA facilities in Hawaii identified 911 veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom with PTSD.

“Just as we must provide our troops with the equipment and tools they need when they are sent to battle, we must do more to help veterans battle the enemy of mental illness,” said Akaka. “VA has made important improvements in recent years, but we must continue to work until what now seems impossible becomes a reality: that no veteran who returns from service is lost to suicide.”

Akaka is the author of the Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Care Improvements Act (Public Law 110-387), a sweeping veterans’ mental health bill passed in 2008 to address the dual issues of substance abuse and PTSD among veterans.

This legislation paid tribute to Justin Bailey, a veteran who died of a drug overdose while receiving treatment from VA for PTSD and substance abuse.

Akaka also cosponsored the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, passed in 2007 to improve VA’s suicide prevention efforts and establish a counseling hotline that has led to over a thousand rescues.

The hearing witnesses drew from firsthand knowledge to discuss the challenges faced by veterans with invisible wounds, which sometimes produce tragic consequences.

Daniel Hanson, an Iraq war veteran, discussed his difficult road from attempted suicide to recovery, to which he largely credited a year-plus residential recovery program outside of VA.

A witness from VA’s suicide prevention hotline described the successful rescue of a veteran who had attempted to take his own life.

The Chairman’s opening statement is available at

For the full witness list and witnesses’ written testimony, visit veterans.senate.gov

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