Wednesday, April 28, 2010


VA will not produce Dr. Robert Petzel and Tammy Duckworth to testify at Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee hearing.

The press release below explains it all.

Congressman Harry E. Mitchell

Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District


April 26, 2010


Mitchell Demands Accountability from VA

Ongoing Delays, Non-Compliance by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Causes Hearing Postponement

WASHINGTON – Late last week, U.S. Rep. Harry Mitchell, Chairman of the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for the House Veterans Affairs Committee, announced the postponement of a hearing to examine VA outreach efforts to veterans at risk for suicide due to an emerging pattern of delays and non-compliance with subcommittee requests for witnesses and information by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"Many of our returning veterans and those who served in past generations bear wounds that can't be seen and are difficult to diagnose,” said Mitchell. “We can't wait for them to come to the VA. The VA needs to go to them, be held accountable for their action or inaction and be transparent with the progress of their efforts.”

The hearing, “Examining the Progress of Suicide Prevention Outreach Efforts at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” was scheduled for April 28, 2010. The hearing was to examine the progress of suicide prevention outreach efforts to veterans – many of whom are not being treated by the VA – who have committed or attempted suicide. The subcommittee had requested Undersecretary for Health, Dr. Robert Petzel, and Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, L. Tammy Duckworth appear to testify, but the VA refused to produce them.

A new hearing date has not yet been set.

On Friday, Mitchell’s subcommittee notified the VA that the hearing would be postponed due to ongoing VA delays and non-compliance. Mitchell also wrote to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki urging the Secretary to comply with requests made by Mitchell’s Subcommittee and other members of Congress on issues critically important to veterans.

“Unfortunately this is not the first time I’ve expressed my concerns regarding requests going unanswered or unreasonably delayed. Additionally, as Chairman, I have received complaints from other Members of Congress that their requests for information from the Department are going unanswered or unreasonably delayed. Based on our Subcommittee’s recent experience with the Department, I am hardly in a position to dispute them,” Mitchell wrote.

As Chairman of the Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Mitchell has repeatedly called upon the VA to increase outreach to veterans who need mental health services and are at risk of suicide. Out of an estimated veteran population of 25 million veterans, only about 8 million veterans are enrolled for health care services through the VA. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau, October 16, 2008; Department of Veterans Affairs, April 17, 2009]

In the wake of an alarming epidemic of veterans committing suicide and months of pressure from Mitchell, he convinced the VA to reverse its long-standing self-imposed ban on television advertising and launch a nationwide public awareness campaign to inform veterans and their families about where they can turn for help. The first public service announcement, promoting a 1-800 telephone suicide prevention hotline, featured current CSI: New York and former Forrest Gump star Gary Sinise. [Source: CNN, May 12, 2009]

Mitchell has previously held numerous hearings on veteran suicides and mental health care, as well as suicide prevention and outreach. His efforts resulted in the VA’s reversal of its earlier policy prohibiting the use television media to reach out to service men and women who suffer from mental health disorders when returning from war. [Source: “VA to Test Public Service Ads,” CBS News, July 14, 2008]

The nationwide expansion of the VA’s public campaign has demonstrated success in saving lives. The hotline received over 160, 000 calls since its inception in 2007. Overall, more than 16,135 veterans were referred to VA medical facilities for care.

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