May 15, 2008, Washington, DC – Today U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) invoked his oversight authority as Chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee to formally request data from VA on veterans’ suicides that is not otherwise available to the Congress. In a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary James Peake, Akaka stressed the need for full and accurate data on the issue.
“We will not know the true cost of war until we know the true rate of suicides among veterans,” said Akaka. “Until the VA mental health care system meets the needs of those who have served, we will continue to see the tragic consequence of veteran suicides.”
In his letter, Akaka specifically requested the following from Secretary Peake:
• The total number of veterans who have committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide • The number of veterans who have committed suicide or attempted to commit suicide while receiving care from VA • Information on VA’s efforts to improve outreach and assistance for veterans between the ages of 30 and 64 • All of VA’s health care quality assurance reviews related to suicides and suicide attempts over the past three years
As Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Akaka is empowered by federal law to review medical quality assurance records that are otherwise not provided outside of the Department.
Akaka’s request follows heightened concerns from Congress and others regarding veteran suicides. Last week, Secretary Peake testified that both male and female veterans are more likely than non-veterans to commit suicide. In recent weeks Akaka has sought action on veteran mental health issues, meeting with Secretary Peake, and working with the Senate Majority Leader to bring up S. 2162, the bipartisan Veterans’ Mental Health and Other Improvements Act of 2008. According to a recent RAND study, nearly one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans – roughly 300,000 so far – report symptoms of PTSD or major depression, and fewer than half receive mental health care.