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tv   Veterans Suicide Prevention Hearing  CSPAN  October 17, 2017 12:15pm-2:41pm EDT

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harassment in his new book "be fierce, stop harassment and take your power back." she's interviewed by sally quinn. watch after words sunday night on book tv. >> c-span, where history unfolds daily. in 1979, c-span was created as a public service by america's cable television companies and is brought to you today by your cable or satellite provider. >> late last month, veterans affairs secretary dr. david shulkin testified about preventing veteran suicide, saying suicide prevejz is his top priority and he outlined efforts to tackle mental illness. he was speaking before the senate veterans affairs committee. it's about two hours 20 minutes.
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>> let me call this meeting of the senate veterans committee, this hearing to order. thank all of you for coming today. especially our witnesses. we have a number of members who are on the way, but we're going to in the interest of time, we're going to get started. today's hearing is about the issue of suicide. as many people in the room know, this month in america is national suicide prevention month across the country. suicide is a terrible, terrible, terrible loss and wasteful loss of life, and preventable loss of life. i think john will remember when we first came in as a committee three years ago, our first bill that we passed was the clay/hunt suicide prevention bill. passed this committee 99-0, and we'll ask the secretary and the other members from the v.a. to
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give us any report they might have on the progress of the implementation in terms of the act, but it's a very important act. in august of 2014, i held a hearing at georgia state university as a member of this committee. it was a field hearing on the issue of suicide. the reason i did it was because in that year, in the months leading up to august of 2014, the georgia v.a., principal v.a. hospital on clairemont road and decatur had three suicides, two on campus. mishandling of available tools for suicide like pharmaceuticals and things of that nature. others for a lack of awareness. and many for a lack of capacity. and that was the real thing that concerned me, so we began working in the clairemont v.a. hospital in atlanta to improve v.a.'s response to suicide and to mental health issues. suicide is a disease. and it is preventable. there are many things we can do, and to set our example, our
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staff director did a great job of seeing to it that every member of the staff, majority and mijoenority has been throug the safe training for suicide prevention. it stands for signs of suicide thinking should be recognized. ask the most important question of all, are you thinking about committing suicide, which is a tough thing to dress, but a key question to ask. validate the veteran's experience, and encourage treatment and expedite getting help. and i can tell you from what we learned in atlanta and have learned in the v.a., timing is everything, as it is in health care in most things. the golden hour, we know about in health care. when someone is contemplating suicide, it's not something you put off to an appointment on wednesday or to another day. it's something you deal with immediately and you deal with quickly, and you expedite the response to it. i want to thank the staff for going through the training. and just like the heimlich maneuver has saved many a life in a restaurant, when somebody was choking and somebody else knew how to apply that maneuver
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and they freed their air passages. just like cpr has helped people who had untimely heart attacks, just like cpr has helped people who might be drowning or might have drowned and brought back to life, but being aware of training necessary to save a life is critically important. we're going to see to it in our committee that we promote this training throughout the v.a. and throughout the government to see to it that we are saving lives and helping people to recover and restore their lives. i want to thank bob thinky for his commitment for doing it on the staff and thank all the staff members for doing it, and thank the members of the committee for their effort as well. we have two panels today on the issue of suicide. our first panelist, mr. john day, assistant inspector general for health inspections. the second is dr. craig brian, executive director national center for veteran studies, and dr. matthew kuntz of montana. we appreciate all three of you being here today.
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you'll be allowed to give up to five minutes of testimony. we don't have a whistle that blows at the end of five minutes, but after ten, you'll be in big trouble. and all your statements will be printed for the record and be memorialized in the record by unanimous consent. with that, we'll start with you, dr. day, and go down the list from there. welcome. >> thank you, chairman isaacson and ranking member tester, members of the committee. it's an honor to testify before you today on the subject of suicide prevention. this topic is important to mr. missile and all of the staff at the oig. we work to insure veterans receive the highest quality mental health care. we have reviewed in depth facts surrounding the death of many veterans who took their own lives. often, we find these veterans suffered the effects of chronic mental illness and substance use disorder. in the aftermath of these deaths, we frequently hear from members of the veteran' family, significant friends and v.a.
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providers that they would have acted sooner or differently only if they had known. after the virginia tech incident shootings, a serious review of the privacy laws that impact the disclosure of medical information was undertaken. my staff met with and talked with a number of the individuals who were involved in this review to determine if there were lessons learned that could be applied to v.a. changes to law seem too difficult to design, however changes in practice that utilize advanced directors or similar devices may often offer a way to improve communication at the critical point when a patient needs the help the most. i think there is a chance to improve communication by expanding the situations under which these and similar devices are used. v.a. has thoughtfully derived a model to predict who may suicide. the question is when would an
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at-risk veteran take action to harm themicisms or harm others? when would intervention be most effective? research using social media and other more timely data has shown promise in understanding the human emotional state and therefore may assist in identifying when intervention for these at-risk individuals would be most successful. i think research and pilot studies in this has great potential. the testimony of others at this table point out that veterans, many veterans do not obtain their care primarily from the v.a. hospital system. and so an effort to reach those veterans who are at risk is most appropriate and essential if we are to make a significant improvement in veteran suicide data. this concludes my oral testimony. and i would be pleased to answer your questions. >> mr. chairman, mr. ranking
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member and members of the committee, i appreciate the opportunity to appear here today to discuss recent advances in veteran suicide prevention. i will not read my written testimony in full but will highlight a number of key points. the response to raising suicide rates the v.a. has implemented numerous measures intended to prevent suicide among veterans. they have led to improved access to care as an example of how they can aggressively prevent the cause of suicide prevention. suicide related outcomes among military veterans have been published in the last two years. although most of these studies involved military personnel, they're applied to the community as a whole. all of the interventions reduce suicidal ideation, but only two are related with reduction in suicidal behavior. cognitive behavioral therapy reduced suicidal behavior by 60%
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to 76%. they're currently the only strategies shown to reduce suicidal behaviors among those who have served in the military. these treatments now serve as a foundation for studies in the v.a. as well as the dod. the latest findings not only confirm that suicidal behavior can be prevented among military personnel and veterans, they also show us how to do it. if these stud as tell us anything, it's this. some strategies work better than others, and simple things save lives. tragically, few veterans are likely to receive these potentially life saving treatments for a number of reasons. today i'll focus on one particular barrier, inadequate training in medical health professionals. two recent studies highlight this issue. in these studies, researchers found that a key suicide prevention strategy used by the v.a. was not associated with subsequent reductions in suicidal behavior as what expected. the lack of effectiveness was attributed to poor quality implementation.
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v.a. personnel often did not implement them. researchers from both of the studies concluded the results were from insufficient training and additional training could change this course. the problem with insufficient training is not confined to the v.a., though. tragically, deficient training is endemic across the mental health training system. a recent report highlights this issue. the main findings of that report are also sum husbanded in the attachment to my testimony. as you can see, a shockingly low number of mental health training programs provide any education or training about suicide to its students. furthermore, state licensing boards, the very bodies charged with protecting the public's health and safety from unqualified professionals, typically do not require any exams or demonstration of competency in suicide risk assessment or intervention. the implications of this report are disturbing. the vast majority of our
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nation's mental health professionals are unprepared to effectively intervene with suicidal veterans. this has critical implications for all veterans, both within and outside the v.a. we have long talked about the many barriers that stand in the way of a veteran receiving mental health treatment, and have invested heavily in removing those barriers. what unsettles me the most as a veteran is knowing that when a fellow veteran overcomes these barriers, he or she is unlikely to receive the treatments that are most likely to save their lives. the sobering and uncomfortable truth is that we have made it easier for veterans to obtain treatment that doesn't work, especially those veterans who receive services from non-v.a. providers in their communities. if we want veterans to benefit from the most recent advances in suicide prevention research, we will need to insure implementation is accompanied by a comprehensive and robust training program. luckily, the past few years have also led to considerable advances in our understanding of the most effective ways of
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teaching these methods to others. much of this knowledge has actually been obtained by the v.a. and their researchers. in order to reverse the trenld of veteran suicide, we must therefore think boldly and must be willing to disrupt the status quo. we need to adopt the newest strategies even though they may depart from existing procedures. we need to invest more heavily in training clinicians to use these procedures and create new initiatives to implement these in clinical trainings. these should not just target the v.a. and dod, but all clinicians in all studies as well as universities and training programs responsible for the readiness and preparedness of our mental health proechbss. in conclusion, we're at a critical turning point for veteran suicide prevention. answers are now clear and effective strategies have been identified. we must now take the steps needed to insure these treatments and interventions are easily available to all
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veterans, both within the v.a. and in our communities. thank you very much. >> we appreciate your testimony. now from the great state of montana, the executive director of the national alliance for mental illness in montana, mr. kuntz. >> yes, sir. chairman isaac sn, ranking member tester and distinguished members of the committee, on behalf of montana, i would like to extend our gratitude for the opportunity to share with you our views and recommendations. we applaud the committee's dedication in addressing the critical issues around veteran suicide. as someone who has personally lost a family member who was a veteran to ptsd, i want to appreciate my sincere thanks. montana has the highest suicide rate in the country with 68.6 per 100,000. this is significantly higher than both the national veterans suicide rate and the western
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region veteran suicide rate. as an organization that's immersed in suicide prevention, we think it's very important that you have a framework to understand suicide. the model that we use is a combination of biological susceptibility and environmental factors then lead to malfunctioning neuron communications which develop into suicidal ideation, behavior, and other symptoms. examples of the factors of biological susceptibility are genetics and physical trauma, examples of factors on the environmental side are emotional trauma, but on the positive, therapy and supportive family. you'll note that i will not be covering lethal means restriction because i believe it's incredibly hard to legislate that. but it is an important factor.
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montana is a very rural state with an average of fewer than six persons per square mile. this creates unique challenges for our health care providers, and we're deeply in need of more mental health providers. i'll move on to our recommendations. the first, to offer a public health intervention proven to reduce suicide during critical points in the military and veteran experience. montana was influential in bringing the youth aware mental health program to the united states, and we would like to offer it as a template of something that's proven to work in another population and would be perfect to bring over to this one. second recommendation, establish a clear policy goal to improve the diagnostic treatment system. the target that montana recommends to the committee is tasking v.a. to work with the department of defense, the national institute of mental health and private partners to
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identify and prepare two additional brain diagnostic measurements for clinical work in the v.a. by the fall of 2020. our next recommendation is to develop a plan for treatment resistant mental health conditions. roughly a third of mental health conditions do not respond to traditional treatments. and this is a big issue, and it's an issue that's not addressed in montana. the montana v.a. has nothing in our state to address treatment resistant depression. this is very personal to me because i lost a dear friend who was a veteran in september 2015 to treatment-resistant depression, and to watch his options slowly slip away was one of the hardest thing yz have ever seen. montana blue cross blue shield supports tms treatment for treatment resistant depression. i do not know why the montana v.a. does not.
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next recommendation, expand access to tele psychiatry, then make online cognitive behavioral therapy available to all veterans. we also believe that the v.a. should expand the availability of automated suicide risk assessment, develop a prize to create and validate a screening tool to determine which patients are at risk of developing side effects from clause apeen. develop a public facing online research directly for non-v.a. resources. create a more synergistic relationship between the v.a. and community mental health centers. there are over 1,300 community health centers across the country, and we should be working with those to care for our veterans. increase the v.a.'s
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collaboration with outside researchers, and finally, establish a continuity of care pipeline for veterans directly from the department offense defense to v.a. community providers. thank you again for the opportunity to testify in front of this honorable committee. your attention to this issue means a lot to me. our entire organization, and their families. >> thank you, mr. kuntz. we appreciate your being here today. what i'm going to do is reserve my time since we have three members that are here and i know we have different meetings that are going to take place and go straight to our members for questions and ask my later when senator tester returns. he's doing a presentation on another hearing. he'll be here in a little bit. let me start off with john. >> thank you very much, mr. chairman. and thank you for holding such an important hearing, and again, also to senator tester, i can't
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think of anything that's more important to discuss, certainly, we all agree that this is a crisis. in arkansas, i think we're number ten in suicide rate overall. of that group, veterans represent about 8% of the population, but represent about 20% of the suicides. so we're a state that is like so much of the rest of the country, in fact, the rest of the country, period, is experiencing significant problems. dr. bryan, you mention that recent reports have highlighted the inadequacies of our nation's mental health professional training. in fact, i was looking at the chart. 15% of psychologists, 25% of social workers, 2% to 6% of marriage counselors, 28% of psychiatrists. you know, only those have really received what we would call even the old fashioned training, perhaps. not to mention the work that you and others are doing in such a
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good way. those are pretty staggering. how do we go about, unless we have a metric out there, how do we go about solving that problem? >> i will admit that this -- >> also, as you're thinking about that, and the rest of you all can jump in, too. once we have the new research, once we perhaps get a metric, how do we get that, you know, not talked about but actually instituted in a timely manner? >> correct. so both very good questions. the first one i think is a much bigger question. i'll admit it, this is a huge issue that we're probably requiring a concerted effort in redesigning or re-engineering our education and training system and professional practice of mental health. we would need to find ways to incentivize graduate training programs and medical schools to insure that not only are they
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providing any amount of training but the training is scientifically supported. this can be accomplished in a number of ways, perhaps looking at grants and other federal incentives and initiatives to encourage certain types of curriculum as well as training opportunities. but also i think partnering with and working alongside various accreditation bodies to look at how do we determine whether or not an educational system is meeting minimum standards for the practice of mental health across these disciplines. if we can work with those organizations, i think we would be able to see some very dramatic shifts in curriculum. for your second question regarding dissemination and implementation, i think one of the challenges that many of us have as scientists, scientists tend not to be very good at communicating their ideas to nonscientists. so many of us in the dissemination field have really talked about how do we find
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opportunities to have researchers and scientists work with communications experts on how to convey this information, not only to the general public but also to other professionals, those who we want to target to be using these strategies. but we also need to target the consumer. so the consumer is educated and understands which treatments work best. so when they go to a health care provider, they can ask the right questions to determine if this is an individual who is likely to be able to help me. >> yes, sir. go ahead. >> yes, sir, you know, one of the things we found to be very important is getting the research to the states. creating a pipeline to have those conversations. we had to start up a research center in montana to make that happen. and because of the way that the v.a. structures their centralized research, we probably will never have a v.a. research doing much in montana.
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but if that pipeline is adjusted, that gets those conversations started, and it gets people trained. the other thing that i would recommend is for the v.a. to make its treatment algorithms for veterans more widely available. i think that the transition to the medical records is going to make that more, i guess more possible, but you know, get those treatment algorithms out to the field so people in non-v.a. facilities can use them. thank you. >> is overmedication a problem? >> i would say my response is overmedication is broad. what we would see, for instance, a student of mine just finished their dissertation, about to publish the results finding there is about a larger than expected proportion of veterans who receive benzodiazepines.
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they're not indicated for ptsd and can actually interfere with effective treatment for ptsd. oftentimes, physicians and other prescribers rely on these because first-line treatments have not worked, so they're hoping to provide some kind of symptom relief. the unfortunate aspect of this as my student found is that in those cases, those veterans with ptsd who received benzodiazepines are almost three times more likely to die by suicide. so there's another risk associated with contraindicated medications where i don't know if they're overprescribed but i'm not necessarily certain that in all cases veterans and their prescribers are aware of all the risks and are able to weigh them with the benefits of those medications. >> right. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, senator. senator blumenthal, who i would point out is one of the real leaders in the clay/hunt suicide prevention bill and did great
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work on that in the last congress. >> thank you. thanks, mr. chairman. thanks for your leadership on this important issue. i was indeed the lead democratic co-sponsor on the clay hunt bill along with senator john mccain on the republican side. and believe that it was a start but only a first step in this effort. and much more needs to be done. obviously, there are steps that have been taken by the v.a. in furthering this effort. and i know we'll hear from dr. shulkin later, but the more i learn about this problem, the more complex and challenging i think it is. dr. bryan, one of the very important statistics in your testimony is that the suicide
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rate among veterans who do not use v.a. services increased by 39% between 2001 and 2014. whereas the suicide rate among v.a. users increased by only 9%. put aside the exact numbers, what i am hearing again and again and again is that the suicide rates are increasing among veterans who lack access, that because of geographic or other difficulties in reaching these services, or because they have received dis -- less than honorable discharges. and this has become a passion for me, because there is a whole group of veterans who suffered from pts, often undiagnosed, were separated less than honorably, and have been cast
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out. and barred from using those services, and often feel stigmatized and disengaged. not only from the v.a. but from society in general. i have met with many of them, and i have worked with the department of defense on the review process, which has been changed as a result of leadership within the department of defense, commendably. but many of those veterans who were discharged less than honorably don't know about it. don't know about the changes in policy. don't know about the possibility of access to these services. so it is a vicious cycle. a lethal cycle, which can lead to suicide. so i guess my question to all of you, not only about the less than honorably discharged veterans but women veterans who
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also perhaps do not readily access these services, and their suicide rates are increasing. those segments of the veteran community whose suicide rates are increasing need to be reached, and my question to each of you is, do you see that phenomenon as real? do you recognize it? and can you elaborate on it, and what are your recommendations for addressing it? >> sir, i agree with you. i think the adequate treatment of substance use disorder and access to therapy and the adequate treatment of depression, as mr. kuntz indicated, to include farmg collagic treatment is critical. if you can't get people to a competent provider, it's a very difficult problem. i agree with your statement.
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>> i have two thoughts in response. the first of which is i think what the statistics highlight is that the rates are going up, even among v.a. users, but it's a much lower rate. the v.a. is doing something good that is not happening for those who do not receive the services. and so a common question is, how do we get more veterans into the v.a.? i think that is an important question. the other question, though, i think we need to ask is, why are there not other adequate services available to veterans in their communities? and i think this -- this really came to a head for me several years ago. i don't know if you read "the new york times" article about the marine 27 who had a very high suicide rate and a lot of them did not have access to the v.a., and there's a lot of discussion about that. i said, the implication of this is some veterans have access to
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really nothing or they have access to community providers who have little to no experience working with service members, veterans. they don't know how to treat ptsd. they have never seen traumatic brain injury before. as the statistics i showed you here, they have no experience with suicide risk. i think part of the solution will be how do we get more veterans into the v.a., because as the rand report recently released highlighted, the quality of care in the v.a. for mental health exceeds that in the private sector. but for those who do not access v.a. services whether because they're not eligible or because they choose not to, we have to keep that in mind, some veterans choose not to, we need to make sure quality services are available to them. and what we have done in salt lake city, kind of as a model of this is, our center is on the university of utah campus right across the street from the salt lake v.a., and what we say is we're not a competitor to the v.a. we're the augment.
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and so the v.a. sometimes sends their patients to us for treatment, and there are some veterans in the community who cannot go to the v.a. or are unwilling and they come to us, and we can sometimes connect them with the v.a. for other services and benefits that maybe they didn't know. so i think we need to look at models like that on how different community agencies and the v.a. can further strengthen working together to better meet the needs of all veterans. >> thank you. >> senator blumenthal, thank you for bringing up the less than honorable issue. that was something that came up in our family before my stepbrother's death. and it's really big, as you all point out, that one of the ways it was solved in helena, montana, or improved, was by adding a vet center to our community. at the time, the v.a. had fought it because they said that you already have a hospital. everybody that will go there, you know, that would go to the vet center is already going to the hospital.
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that turned out not to be true. i think that part of it is when you're depressed or when you have ptsd, the first thing you can't stomach is bureaucracy. and you just quit. you face bureaucracy, you face this red tape, and you give up. and the vet centers have less bureaucracy. the fqhcs have less bureaucracy, in order to get in and start to play. i think that's part of what's not really shown in those statistics, is the folks that give up because they look at the bureaucratic red tape and say i can't mentally take it. >> i just want to thank all of you for your testimony today. obviously, we just scratched the surface of this topic. i hope that we can get the latest numbers on vet suicide rates, on the differences
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between v.a. users and nonusers. i sponsored legislation with my colleague senator blunt to -- it's called the veteran peer act, legislation that would establish peer specialists in patient-aligned care teams within v.a. medical centers to do this kind of outreach. the peer-to-peer relationship among vets, i think, is an effective way to enable more access. but the v.a. has been doing better, and i commend dr. shulkin and his team. and will, as i mentioned, we'll be hearing from him, but on all counts, the nation needs to do better. thank you. >> thank you, senator blumenthal. for the benefit of the members here, we're going to take questions by order of appearance altering by party. the next three questioners will be senator heller, senator manchin, and senator sullivan in
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that order. >> mr. chairman thank you. thank you for this hearing. i want to thank those that are witnesses for being with us today. and i want to especially thank you senator tester. because i know this is an issue that's important to him. an issue that's important to montana. and it is unfortunate that montana leads us in the statistic, but the issue is that nevada is right behind them. the question that i continue asking myself is what makes montana and nevada unique? and mr. kuntz, i'll start with you as to why we see the stress in the areas of montana and nevada, maybe a little more unique than the rest of the country. >> senator heller, it's a great question. and i'll tell you if i had the perfect answer for that, i would probably be making a lot more
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money. but i would tell you that just to see what is there is we do have higher access to lethal means in our state for the most part, when when you are suicidal, the closer you are to committing suicide, i mean, is very real. we also have a lot of veterans per capita in our communities, and i think that that's important. one of the thingsist that's a little bit different about our suicide trends, and i don't know if it's the same for nevada is we have more older veterans that are killing themselves. and i think that national trend saying that it's younger. but if you look at montana, that age 30 to 65, white males, is when we are losing them. and maybe it's just that we have a lot of people in that population group. but i think it's -- it's also an
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issue of lack of care. we have no psychiatric residency program in our state, and i know that a lot of nevada rural communities struggle too. so i think it's a number of different factors, and we've got to tackle them one at a time. >> i really do appreciate your comments. we had secretary shulkin in the state just a month or so ago, and he expressed and his efforts to tackle this particular problem. we have hospitals both north end and south end of the state. we have a number of clinics that have been opened recently because of the efforts and the work of the secretary and the v.a. and it's appreciated. let me ask you, mr. bryan, they have a resiliency program in israel that -- maybe we've
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already discussed this -- where they try to get this on the front end instead of the backnd where they actually train their soldiers, both male and females, of trying to avoid some of the stressful situations they may fine themselves in and train them for them. are we doing the same thing here in our country. >> i would say in general, yes, in the sense that if you look at military training in general a lot of it is designed to foster resiliency, how to endure difficult diverse situations, perform under pressure, manage stress, et cetera. we have not had much success over the next decade or so is when we try to develop more resiliency programs that take in more of a classroom format where we then bring in outsiders who teach or train resiliency in the units who are supposed to go teach these concepts or skills within the unit.
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there have been a number of number of barriers or that. but unfortunately some of the research that's done on pramts such as comprehensive soldier fitness have yielded no benefit. we have seen some promise, however, in other resiliency methods. the one that has garnered the best, greatest promise so far is a program developed by the army that was battle mind that was shown to prevent or reduce ptsd symptoms to a small degree -- it wasn't large, but it was a small and noticeable degree amongst those who had the greatest and most intense levels of combat exposure while deployed. which makes sense. where we found the effect were among the ones who probably needed it the most and ones who had the highest level of trauma exposure while deployed. we have had threads of evidence suggesting certain approaches might help to reduce or prevent,
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at least the severity of ptsd. however, we have not been able to large scale implement and further study those different strategies. >> is there any family training, not just the veteran themselves, but actual family training so they can identify some of these issues prior and help that veteran? >> right. there are a number of programs, there is none that sort of rises among the top. this is common, the peer issue that you mentioned before a lot of the programs tend to take more of a here's a bunch of signs and symptoms of this health condition. and now refer someone to a mental health prefer. but what we lack is what do the family members do? so if a veteran is struggling with ptsd and does not want to go to treatment or there is a two-week wait what are you supposed to do in the meantime? we don't currently have any programs training that.
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newer research, the crisis response point that i mentioned before, this is something we have been teaching to family members, we have been teaching to peer specialists, the non-health care providers in the community who are closest to the veteran in need to not only recognize when they might need help, but also what to do about it, and doing thing that have been scientifically shown to prevent suicidal behavior and prevent ptsd. >> mr. bryan, thank you. i want to thank you all of our panelists and i want to thank the chairman for his commitment because it makes a difference. we need to figure this out and make that kind of difference. mr. chairman thank you very much for the time. >> thank you senator heller. we appreciate it. mr. manchin? >> [ inaudible ]. >> i'll turn my mike on first. for all of you to be here. my first question will be to mr.
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kuntz. as you mentioned in your testimony, community health centers are critical part of providing health care in rural areas. your state and my state are pretty rural. and in west virginia, for instance, community health centers trooed treat almost 400,000 patients. that's almost 25% of our population. out of that, we have 166,000 veterans in our state. i'm sure many of them got treatments there rather than traveling long distances to the v.a.s if they lived out in the rural areas of west virginia. i would like to hear you speaking on the importance of the community healths centers as mental health providers in your research. are they capable? do they have the personnel? do they have the expertise to do that? so we can get -- i'm trying to get the treatment as quickly as possible without trying to, you know, build a whole another infrastructure to do it, if this vehicle is available for us, community health centers. >> senator manchin, thank you
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for your question. it's an amazing point. i tell you that we have our licensing board in the state of montana, and we have lcsws that work at the fqhcs, we have fcsws that work at the v.a. psychologists here. i mean,s in the same level of staff -- the training may be a little bit different but the fqhcs in the rural health centers are adding mental health professionals all the time. >> the quality of care for our sket veterans can be as adequate there as they will be at the v.a. centers. >> yes, sir, the only thing they are not that good at is long term care. so i think that that short-term turnaround coverage, maybe six sessions of counselling, until they are transferred to the v.a. but if you are in a time crunch that is exactly a place where i send people. you know, if you are struggling
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to get into the v.a., go to the fqhc. >> okay, good. mr. bryan, in your testimony you highlight a lack of adequate training on suicide prevents methods among the mental health professors not just among v.a. provides but nationwide. would he know other v.a. patients are using non-v.a. care centers. we just talked about it. if they committee moves forward how do we get more people that expertise, suicide prevention? >> i think it will require a multipronged approach. i think the easiest or sort of most straightforward approach is to invest in training workshops. however, i will say that will likely have limited impact. if there's one thing i've learned over the past decade training thousands of mental health profession is going to two days of workshop a power
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point decade of slides is often not enough for them to know how to use the therapy in an effective way. one of the things we hava learn from the vchltd a.'s efforts is you have to provide ongoing support and you train people, supervisor them, meet with them on a regular basis, you help them, teach them how to overcome common barriers. i think as we look at training i think we have to look at it in more of a long term support. i think the second aspect is we have to look at our educational system. another thing i've learned over the decades of doing this training of professionals at all levels, if you teach a student how to do good medicine they spend the next 30 or 40 years of their life doing good medicine. if you teach a student to use unsupported non-scientifically based interventions they start doing that for ten or 20 years and it becomes very difficult the get them to change back. and so when i really think of
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this question it's not only training the current labor force but we are also going to have to look at how do we change how we train and teach the future labor force. >> one more question, mr. chairman, if i may. doctor daigh n your testimony you brought the concern about confidentiality requirements for sharing a veteran's treatment information to coordinate mental health between the veteran's provider and extended family. i'm glad you pointed out that issue. as it stands, more than half of v.a. patients are abusing opiates and overdose on prescription pain medication at more than double the national average. and that's a horrible problem in my state of west virginiaia, as most states are dealing with this. while the v.a. has made really significant improvements, i still believe the areas that these are critical areas we must work on. in march i used the vet connect act of 2017 which would streamline the health records sharing between v.a. and community health providers since
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we are basically giving more services outside the v.a. the bill requires the veteran's health administration to comply with hippa but providers can make informed decision based on the veteran's holistic history. can you elaborate on your findings why it is so important for the health care providers to have access to this behavioral health treatment information for their patients and how the current law is undermining the quality of coordinated care and hurting our veterans. what do we need to do to change? >> i don't know if i can answer all of that. i think that -- >> give ate shot. >> -- in the personal relationship tween the team at the v.a. who is providing care to a veteran, they often know who the significant individuals are in that provider's life. not necessarily related members. so i think that coming up with mechanisms and v.a. does doesn'tly use advanced directives. but to use them more widely and
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more thoughtfully and consider how they can be used so when people get in crisis, vchltd a. providers can reach out and talk to significant individuals to try to bring that person back in. to the second point of sharing medical records across, i think that the data exchanges have to work in order for the v.a. medical record to communicate with all those other medical record systems. so if there is -- among the vital points going forward, that is an extremely vital point i'll not advocating a change to the privacy rules i'm advocating we be more creative in getting permission so that at the time a person is ill a larger community can be brought into the discussion. >> we are going to need your help on that because we have had trouble getting past that. we have a bill called jesse's law, a little girl, 30 years old, she was addicted, overdosed
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a couple of times, and died in the hospital. she died because when she went into the hospital she explained she was a recovering addict and she had asked -- repeatedly, she said please notify my records, make sure my records are identified that they know i am a recovering addict. well, there was no such -- the records were buried. it wasn't like if you have allergic to court zone or any of the other types of thing that are really stamped and marked. the dispensing doctor didn't see it and they gave her 30 oxycontin and she was dead by 1:00 in the morning. we're having trouble getting through the hippa because of patient privacy. common sense has to prevail. you might be the ones that will help us transition this thing and get this legislation that gives you the chance to share that patient's within the profession ranks so that you can better serve them. you need to speak out on that one. thank you. >> thank you senator manchin.
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senator from montana is back. we are going to let you do our opening statement. and do your questions at the same time, unless are you ready for your questions right now, senator tillis. go ahead senator till snis first i want to thank senator tester, we worked together over the past year or two gettih dr. shulkin in our office. and i appreciate your continued very valuable contribution to us, keeping track of the transformation efforts within the v.a. i'm sorry i was not hear earlier to hear the testimony. but we'll start back on the medical record. back in north carolina, i sat on the electronic health record board when we were trying to integrate health records among medical providers within the state. and since i'm here and on the senator armed services committee we were successful with getting a provision in the nda that makes absolutely certain and i believe that the department is glad that we did, the v.a., makes absolutely certain that we
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don't miss a step as we integrate if two electronic medical record platforms that are going to be common platforms. there is still more work to do with over 120 different instances of medical records in the v.a. we've got to first make sure there is a good flow from d.o.d. to the v.a. and then we've got to make sure that we get that right. and then we go to the next step, which is all the providers that could be involved in providing a veteran care. and so senator manchin i'm glad that you brought that up. i think it's critically important. there are ways to do it. we need to push the envelope. we can address the privacy rules but we want to make sure the comprehensive view of the veteran in terms of their health history is known to anybody who may provide them care at any level. i'm kind of curious about the work that we need -- i've got the state -- the heart breaking statistics for the state of north carolina. but frankly, they are in some
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cases better than the national average. and other cases. a correlation wonder to what between the incidences of suicides in other states and the lack of v.a. resources available to them, or other resources. in other words in a state like north carolina where we have such a large military footprint, you have a natural group of people that have a therapeutic value just by being around other veterans. then we have brick and mortar facilities. have we looked at that and see if there is any correlation between foot print and outcomes to your knowledge? >> no, sir. i'm -- the gentleman who compiles the data may be able to answer that question but i don't have an answer for that. >> i think it's important because it could be instructive as we go through and look at how rear prioritizing the foot print. and every one of the states are different. that's why some of the performance of the v.a. differs.
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it's based on support networks, bsos, a variety of other factors. i think that should be instructed as we look at how we deploy resources to increasing our presence. i don't know, i saw senator blummen all this, i think he was heading out of the hearing as i was moving in. but i was curious if he brought up the issue he and i share a concern with, it had to do with possibly bad paper and not tracking. what more should we do to go back and take a look at discharges other than honorable that if we had had a better understanding of what may have occurred during their service that could put them at higher risk and actually could have resulted in paper that they shouldn't have been discharged with? >> yes, he did raise that issue. and this is, i think an important issue not only for suicide but also for a host of other social issues that are i think of high relevance. we've seen high rates of homelessness, higher rates of
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criminal activity in that subgroup as well, other social problems. so i think if we address it here with suicide prevention, we actually probably would have a much larger social impact in other areas as well as. >> are you all aware of anything that we should do as best practices -- while we deal with the policy issues of how do we go back -- there are two pieces of this prospectively going forward. how do we make sure that at the point in time when we are making a discharge decision that we are taking in factors, particularly the invisible wounds of war that could have affected that person's behavior and resulted in the other than honorable? and then how do you back -- the statistics here show that a lot of the suicide that is we are seeing are not in the current wars that we are fighting but they are vietnam war and prior to that. has there been much work done or any bright spots that we are going back into the veterans population and trying to help them, trying to clear up their record or at least make sure
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they are getting the care they need to avoid the possible suicide? >> senator, probably the best one that i have seen is the vet centers. because if you have been in combat, they don't care what your paperwork looks like. so there is a place where people can go. and i think that the other policy statement is these mental health conditions lead to conduct that eventually can get you discharged. and if you have been to combat, why is there a less than honorable? i mean, i don't know if we can scientifically say this didn't cause your behavior or didn't have some kind of effect. so my perspective, the tie goes to the runner. >> yeah, you know, i would -- i'll take that at face value. it may be something that we should talk about. i chair the personnel subdme senator armed services. but look at it in a way that there can clearly be, even in
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the u.s. military, there are people who do things that i think are appropriate for dishonorable discharge. it's a matter of how you get that right and how you do, based on the circumstances that a soldier was exposed to, to where that -- maybe the tie breaker is the nature of the environment they were exposed to. and what you can reasonably expect ads a medical practiti practition practitioner, someone who would look at it and say look, this is probably where the tie needs to go to the solder. >> one other point i'll add. when you look at some of these decisions there are two separate pre processes where one is separated from military service. the medical process and administrative process. they don't parallel each other, don't interface with each other. and i can speak for myself as a former military psychologist, sometimes there was confusion about who has precedent because boast issues are going on. which one goes first? which one goes second? so it can create a lot of
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confusion and a lot of frustration for everyone involved, the commanders, the health care providers, and the service member and the veteran. and so perhaps something looking -- going forward is how do we create a process wherein these two separate parallel tracks maybe -- you know, work together more explicitly, there is new policies in place wherein this is cross talk amongst these two stove pipes that now isn't happening. so it's easier to make these types of decisions which i think would help to reduce a lot of the these conflicts and questions. >> thank you all. thank you chair, and senator tester. >> senator tester? >> thank you mr. chairman. i wasn't going to talk about this but since senator tillis brought it up, the easiest thing for the military to do is pitch somebody out for behavioral problems. the more difficult thing to do is make an analysis whether
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military service changed them. it's incumbent upon the military to do that. this isn't the d.o.d. committee. it's v.a. and it's important. this is for either dr. bryan or dr. daigh. could you give me an idea on what percentage of veterans who attempted suicide were previously diagnosed with mental health issues? >> when you say attempted suicide, they died by suicide or they made non-fatal attempt at suicide? >> attempt. >> i do know the statistics are available. i want to say the v.a. report. please take this with a grain of salt, around 70% give or take. >> 70% have already been diagnosed with a mental illness? >> right, yes. >> okay. have we seen a correlation between combat exposure and suicides? >> we published a paper on this a couple years ago. and the answer is a little more complex to answer. so is there a relationship
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between deployment and general and suicide. >> yes, that's fine. >> no. is there a correlation between certain theiss types of combat related traumas? yes. killing and surrounded by death, there was a correlation. >> there is a speculation that living at higher at attitudes could affect suicide, depression. are you fwam those studies and are they real? >> yes, a completion of mine is the leading scientist in that area. >> and they are real? >> absolutely. what seems to happen is at higher altitude we have different oxygenation of metabolites in the bloodstream. so it affects how our brain processes neurotransmitters and how our brain in essence works. >> interesting. >> yes. >> think i think more for you, matt. veterans have been concerned about you seek mental health
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care, there is a stigma attached, it could have effects on their career, perception by family, friends, right down the line. do you think we are making the appropriate steps to take care of the stigma that's associated with mental health issues? have we done or made any progress in the area of destigmatizing mental illness? >> senator tester, i think we have made some progress as a society. the one thing i guess i just don't understand why we don't do enough of is really brag about how some of our best americans had mental health conditions, had post-traumatic stress disorder. why don't -- i mean, when you are talking about abraham lincoln, why aren't we saying, bless us, that that guy had bipolar disorder or depression? i mean i think that some of our greatest leaders, like we are bringing a sergeant major from
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delta force to congress in november. and i mean, people like that need to stand up and say, in some ways my condition helped me. but on those days where i struggle, you better be there to help me, too. >> right on. so you talked about older veteran suicide. can you give me -- this kind of goes back to the question that i just asked mr. kuntz. can you give me an idea whether the newer generation of veterans are seeking mental health care more readily than the older generation? or is there no difference? >> i don't have the data on that. >> do you know? >> my sense -- i don't know the data offhand. my sense is that there is a decreased likelihood of younger generations of veterans that access services a of the the v.a. >> oh, really? so it's actually gotten worse? >> that's what i understand. i could be wrong but that was my understanding from some of my v.a. colleagues.
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maybe someone else has better data or understanding of the data than me. >> all right. one of the things that i think is interesting, we were contacted by a veteran from sydney, montana, that's in the far eastern part of montana very rural, who note in addition the v.a. is unable or unwilling to include family members in the intervention process if a veteran is in crisis. i don't know if this is true or not, but if it is true, i think we are making a big mistake. i would love to hear all of your opinions very briefly because you only got about a minute left, 30 seconds, on what the v.a. can do better to engage families. start with you, dr. daigh. >> i think that use of advanced directives or some other mechanism that allows providers to talk about otherwise prohibited information to families widely when there is a crisis would help that
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intervention process. >> okay, doctor bryan? >> i think there are two key strategies that we can work with family members about. the first is basic crisis management, how to talk to someone in crisis and how to help them when they are struggling to identify solutions to their current problem. >> so actually working with the families to train them so they go recognize and rectify. >> correct. this is something we have been doing in salt lake city training family members on what to do. the second related piece of that, teaching family members and bringing them involved in the firearm safety aspect. >> yes. >> how do we work with families to increase safety within the household even maybe during times of not crisis. because if we have a safer household to begin with during a time of crisis, everyone in the house will be safer overall. >> hold on just for a second, matt. do you have statistics of how many suicides by veterans are
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committed by guns versus otherwise? >> vast majority, 70 to 75% are through firearms. >> okay. >> yeah. >> matt? >> senator tester, i think telling the families how to communicate with the v.a. because you can get around hippa. i mean, you need to send us a letter. you need to send it to this portal. you can call us. we may not be able to tell you about the veteran, but if you are -- if your veteran is in trouble, this is how you communicate to us, and this is the way that you do it and the way that we'll respond. we tell our families, you do written letters to professionals. they start thinking about malpractice, and pretty quick they will get moving. but you have to train those families. and the same thing -- we have a family-to-family course which helps train them in how to interact with the treatment system. >> well, thank you all for your
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testimony. i got -- i mean, we could spend all day long on this issue, truthfully, and we can spend all week and maybe the next month but i want to thank you for what you guys are doing. each one of you in your own right are doing some really good work. and i think that you are the key to be able to partner with folks like you to really move this issue in a way where we have better outreach. we have better education. and we have better results. thank you. >> thank you senator tester. i have a couple of quick questions and then we'll go to senator cassidy if he has a question and then we'll go to the second panel. real quickly to this panel, mr. kuntz you made reference to biological susceptible. is that a test where there are markers that there may be a suicide. >> circumstances i absolutely wish there were. there is not a test now.
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biological susceptibility is -- it's something that's also dependent on other -- it can factor into every other health care condition. there is not necessarily a biological success suspectability test for skin cancer either but some people are more prone. that's one of the things we have asked the committee is to ask the v.a. for more die logical indicators by the fall of 2020. i think that even if it's not a specific this test for that, there are things like computerized executive functioning where we know if that executive functions is getting worse, there is something going on in that brain. it's not necessarily ptsd or depression, but there are tests that need to be brought forward. and i'm hoping that they can be rolled in by the fall of 2020. >> the reason i asked the question is, when you listen to the testimony of all of you, there are two things that pop out. one is we haven't had enough good training in the v.a. for
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dealing with suicide and we need to work on that. dr. shulkin is going to do that prioritizing suicide prevention is the main focus of his leadership. the other thing is that people don't ask the right questions, don't report the right -- and our timing is never very good, response timing on suicide prevention ought to be immediate, and not two weeks down the road. that's why i'm proud of all our staff on the majority and minority side have take ten safe tech course to look for the signs of suicide, to ask the question are you considering suicide not beat around the bush about it, to validate the veteran's experience and encourage treatment and expedite getting well. if we embrace the save program in the v.a. and work to do it we will save a lot of lives by simply having the air wearness and direction of what to do.
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direction is 90%. if we are better aware we won't need a biological test. everybody wishes there were a biological test. but you are right, there is not necessarily a biological test, but there are indicators, no matter whether it's skin cancer or what it may be. senator, did you have question. >> yes. doctor daigh you i think inned it's how do you establish intent. if somebody dies from an overdose say john bell usually, is that card suicide or is that considered a drug overdose? >> so, in the -- in the course of our work, sir, we would rely on what the medical examiner said in their determination of all the relevant facts at the time the death occurred to state whether they thought it was an accidental death or an intentional death.
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>> so accidental in the sense that they are addicted to drugs, they took too much, they stopped breathing. that would not necessarily be a suicide. that indeed might be considered accidental overdose? >> we would record it that way, and we would -- yes, sir, we would have that interpretation and we would always wonder if we were right. >> got that. and mr. bryan, you mentioned this, but any of you all can answer these questions. again i'm just trying to understand. clearly, you cite the statistic i believe that 308% increased rate of suicide among veterans. but i think that's compared to the general population, not to an age, gender base cohorth. and going beyond that, i'm not sure it is related to socioeconomic class and or disease burden, intuitively people with greater disease burden are more likely to commit suicide. as we understand these statistics epidemiologically had they matched against a matched
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cohort or is it against the general population? if they are not matched against a matched cohort, what are the excess rates relative to one which is matched? >> correct. so the statistics that i cited was from the v.a.'s report from last year. those are age and gender adjusted for the reasons that you note, age, and gender -- >> what about sec? >> i was not involved in the analysis. i don't know what other variables they may have adjusted for. >> but age and gender -- >> age and gender are the most common adjustments we make when looking at military statistics and comparing to the general population. >> is suicide more common among -- clearly, suicide are more common among people who have addictions, that's intuitive, right, they are addicted for a reason. but are there other kind of breakups, if you were going to match them against -- in the general population as a whole, are there certain things yes, in this social strata, it's more
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common, or in this disease burden it's more common? it's asking this for my knowledge. >> right. yes. so if we look for instance like in the r.a. report they broke thing down into different age groups. they looked at different diagnostic characteristics, what type of mental illness does a person have, diagnosis -- they looked at opioid, opioid abuse as well. and what were -- men versus women. what we tend to see is that on a whole veterans have a higher rate of suicide regardless of the categories. >> but i'm asking in the general population. mr. kuntz, are you -- >> senator cassidy, it can really speak well to montana but i think since we are the highest suicide rate in the country there may be something to learn there. we created a montana suicide review team that went through all the death certificates in the state for exactly the reasons that you are talking about. we can't solve it unless we know it. interestingly enough, the one
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demographic that really jumped out was white males between 30 and 60. like, that was, you know -- >> let me stop you, mr. kuntz, because there is a research out of princeton which says in the general population white males to a lesser extent white females in that demographic are dying. but it does relate to lower socioeconomic class. now your state has a higher rate of poverty than new jersey. >> yes, sir. >> so have you corrected that for kind of economic status or not? >> sir, from looking at the economic status, it will also say that most of our suicides are from people that are economically struggling. in particular, people who have not a lot of education. less -- like the higher you go up the education totem pole the less likely you are to commit suicide in our state.
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although i will say that there are some other factors that we have been into this because if you have depression, i think a estate -- >> totally get it. >> you know, popping people off -- popping people off of the education. >> rich people shoot themselves, too, i hate to say. >> yes, sir. >> but i dot sound -- and i'm sure dr. shulkin will testify whether or not these v.a. statistics, are these veterans typically a lower socioeconomic class, et cetera, how closely do they match the princeton data? if you all know that, i have ten more seconds. if not i'll wait for dr. shulkin. >> thank you very much, i yield back. >> thank you very much. senator tester. >> yeah, i think that, mr. chairman, i'm done with this panel. while they are seth up for the next panel i would just like to make a quick statement if i could. >> we'll do that. i want to thank the panelists for being here today. your testimony has been eye opening and helpful, and we'll continue to focus on this.
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dr. shulkin needs focus on it in the v.a. we thank you for your attendance today. >> while they are doing that, i would like to give a quick statement. >> the ranking member is recognized. >> thank you mr. chairman. i would say look this discussion is very, very important today. it continues to be unacceptable. we have the number of suicides in the vet population that we have. make no mistake about it it's also a national epidemic. not specific to veterans, but we are here to talk about veterans. in fact it is the tenth leading cause of death in the united states. since the chairman dropped the gavel at the beginning this hearing six people have committed suicide in this country. look, v.a. data suggests that approximately 20 veterans commit suicide every day. on average -- and this is important statistic for us to know, only six were enrolled in v.a. health care. what does that mean? we have got to do a better job of outreach. once we do that job of outreach
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we have got to make sure those folks have the health care profession on the vound ground within the v.a. to get the help that they need. why is that important for this committee? if we are going to get health care paroles on the ground in urban and rural areas, and i think they are needed in both it's going to cost money. we have got to have more residency slots we have got to be more aggressive. i think it's really an important issue moving forward. i think this last panel has showed it. we need to fill those vacancies within the v. rachlt. we need to make sure would fully leverage the assets like our v.a. centers. we can talk about this. and i think it's important to talk about it and get the maktsd. but as matt kuntz knows, i don't know if matt left or not. he was on the first panel. but i will tell you this guy not only talks the talk. he walks the walks. we need to follow his lead and make sure that we follow up this committee hearing with action that actually does right by our veterans in this country. and by the way f we do that, i think it helps the civilian
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population, too. so thank you very much, mr. chairman. >> thank you senator tester. it was an excellent paenlle i appreciate your leadership on this issue of suicide. we know it's number one in our state both with the general populous and as well as veterans. we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to address it in the veteran's administration. we know dr. shulkin focuses on veteran's administration. >> we worked very hard in the first nine months of this year the ranking member and i and the entire committee to bring legislation to the floor that was sought by many of us and in some cases sought by the secretary to improve the v.a. we changed the paradigm at the v.a., changed the headlines at the v.a. we are very proud of that. the committee has been united democratic and republican on getting the job done. we have done that. also because the v.a. under dr. shulkin's leadership is seizes
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the advantage we have been giving. last week was the first use of the accountability legislation in a termination of a a somebody member of the staff at the veteran's administration far lack of performance, incompetentsy, et cetera, et cetera, that wouldn't have been possible had that legislation not be passed. i want to on behalf of the ranking member and myself and everybody on the committee thank you for taking advantage of the tools you have asked for and we have given new the veteran'sed a stray. there are more tools in the bag that you are going to need to use and we are going to be there to sort you. and i wanted to thank you personally for using the accountability legislation last week. >> i have got slip back again, and then come back. if you could recognize joe --
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>> okay. no problem. thank you mr. chairman. and good morning senator cassidy, senator murray. nice to see you. senator manchin, the best attendance award. thank you for staying for the whole thing. and i want to thank you, mr. chairman, for several things. first of all, i think i couldn't agree more with your comments. i'm very proud of this committee. i think it's the best committee in the senate. it works together in the a bipartisan way, and working to really get things down. and i'm proud to be working with you on that. and also thank you for having the first panel first because they got all the hard questions and got to hear all the answers. and that was terrific. but as you know, we are here today, and this is an important hearing because our goal is to eliminate suicide. we want to do that through risk identification. we want to do it through effective treatments, education outreach, research, and strategic partnerships.
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senator tester mentioned right before he left that our research shows that 20 veterans a day are dying through suicide, and he did something by saying that there were six americans who died during the course of our hearing. i think about that every day, how many veterans are dying for us not being more effective at the way that we are addressing this problem. we know veterans are at greater risk for suicide than americans. this is an american public health crisis. but for the veteran population, even more so. and we do know, as has been said several times already this morning, that 14 of those 20 aren't receiving care within the v.a. system. we know from research that v.a. care saves lives. and we know that treatment works. so this is a matter of trying to get more people treated. what we're trying to do is more aggressively than ever before to
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outreach to veterans that aren't getting access to care. but we can't help those that we don't see. so this is where we are extending our help into the community to work with community partners. we are doing more to reach veterans than ever before. as secretary i have authorized we do start providing emergency mental health services to those that were other than honorably discharged. that's important but we can do more in that extent with your help. we have asked every medical center this month to sign a suicide declaration pledge. i'm pleased that you signed it this morning, mr. chairman, along with the ranking member. when i was out in nevada, senator heller also signed it with his community members. so we are doing that across the country. and that's a pledge of specific action steps that we want leadership to take to be able to help reduce suicide.
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we have developed the largest integrated suicide prevention network in the country. over 1100 professionals who are dedicated to suicide prevention, including suicide prevention coordinators and other mental health professionals. our goal that i have announced is to hire 1,000 additional mental health professionals to we can do even more and grow that network. our veterans crisis line which we established in 2007 has now answered more than 3 million calls and dispatched 84,000 emergency ambulances to help people who were in urgent need of help. that's incredible. we've had 504,000 refers to suicide prevention coordinators. so we are helping a lot of people through that. the veterans crisis line number, and i encourage everybody to keep this in their phone because you never know when you are going to get that 2:00 a.m. call and you don't want to be looking
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for this -- is 1-800-273-8255. 800-273-8255. we have recently appointed, seven weeks ago, dr. matt miller to head up your veterans crisis line. this is the first time we've had a clinical psychologist in charge of the veterans crisis line. because this is clinical work and this is not just a call center. we have expanded telemental health. we have 11 telemental health regional hubs throughout the country. and in 2006 alone we had 427,000 telemental health encounters. that's more than ever before. we have taken from our research enterprises a big data analytics program in a we call reach vet that now predicts who may be at the greatest risk for suicide, up to 80 times the risk of suicide of a regular person over the next year. now we call them. this is being done around the
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country to outreach and see what we can do to proactively help, so not waiting until there is a suicide attempt. on september 15th of this month we released state suicide data. many of you have been referencing that data. but we think that's going to help people design more effective interventions. we have continued to develop public/private partnerships because v.a. can't do it alone. this morning i was talking to the cohen veteran's network as one of those partnerships. but many of our vsos and other groups who are here in the room today are those partners that we are working with. we continue to invest in two v.a. center of excellence research initiatives to help us understand how to do interventions better and to take a population health approach towards reducing suicide. this month, as you have said, is suicide prevention month. that's our be there campaign, where we are reaching out to make people aware and try to decrease the stigma of mental illness. with that today i have brought with us our new psa
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announcement. i just want you to listen to it for a second. hopefully you will recognize who is helping us with this. >> in the fabric of america, they are the toughest threads, our bravest, and most selfless. they raise their hands, stepped forward, and served for each other, for you, and me. one of the first things they learned was the code that every service member lives by, leave no one behind. now all of us need to live by it, too. because some veterans are being left behind. 20 of them take their own lives every day. why? it's not simple. it never is. what matters is that we're there for them, just like they were there for us. a handshake, a phone call, a simple gesture make a big
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difference to a veteran in crisis. learn how to be there for a veteran. at be there for honor the code. be there. leave no one behind. in the fabric of america -- confuse we're grate hfl to tom hanks for lending his credibility to help us get this message out. and you will begin to see this national psa with a video starting in about 30 days. so despite all this progress that we are making, we still have so much more work to do. that's why, as you said mr. chairman this is my number one priority. this is what we're focusing on to make a difference. but we need your ep had. it wouldn't be a hearing if we didn't ask for your help. those are three things that we could ask for your help on. we have to find a way to recruit more mental health professionals
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not just for the v.a. but for the country at large. i have identified we need 1,000 more. we are not making the progress i want to be able to recruit them. secondly, we want you to participate in the be there campaign. thank you for signing the declaration. you are as well respected members in the senate helpful in spreading that word with us. third we need more research. many of you identified there are no blood tests, the biomarkers. we need to be able to do this better, better research in genomics to be able to make a difference. the v.a. has that capability with your additional support. thank you for holding this today. i would be glad to take any questions, along with dr. carroll. >> senator manchin be recognized first. >> mr. chairman, i can't thank you enough. i have a heard 11:30, about 100
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children here. i wanted to ask a couple questions shulkin. know you are aware there are more and more news about veteran suicides. they are doing it in parking lots, coming to the v.a. and doing it. we just had one in class,burg. i don't know what you can do to train your security. i don't know how to do it. but i know there is some timing involved here, and everything goes in lockdown if it's on the property but it's becoming more of an occurrence than we ever thought it could be. i don't know if you all have taken steps, if it's been at a high enough level to where you know it is a problem around the country. >> oh, believe me, we are extremely aware of this. it is so painful to hear each of these stories. you are right that what we're seeing is that people are coming onto v.a. property. and we are doing a number of things. part of these declarations that every one of our filth are
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signing are ten action steps. one of them is to train just like this committee every one of our staff members in suicide prevention and risk identification and what to do. we are establishing much what have we learned through the homeless program that you do this through a no wrong door approach. a veteran who is at risk and recognizes that should know where and when and have the responsibility to follow through. >> can i ask this question real quick. >> yes. >> what i'm concerned about, and it is alarming -- it's not well publicized as you know. it's becoming more and more. when it happens in small rural states such is as west virginiaia in a parking lot at the v.a. we have an awful lot of veterans in our state i'm concerned about maybe this being taken inside the hospital to where it's more than just that person doing harm to themselves because they need help. i don't know how you secure
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that. are we securing the hospitals? can we secure -- because we all have to come through to come on v.a. property. we have to have a stop. there's a checkpoint. >> right. right. >> i don't know -- i would hope you would consider that. but i want to go to another question very quick -- i'm saying please, at the highest element you can, i'm concerned. you talked about 1,000 additional mental health. i'm talking about rural montana, rural west virginiaia. we had a vacanty posted in class,berg. we have had another one in martinsburg since 2016. another vacancy for martinsburg posted in the five or six months. this is vacancies at beckly and princeton. are you having a harder time -- can you tell me of the 690 -- 649 people that have been hired what is the ratio between rural
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and urban? it's probably easier to get somebody in an urban area than a rural. so we are going to have to put more effort in that. >> well, i think you have it right. martinsberg is a success story. about a year and a half ago i was really concerned about their staffing levels. they have done a great job of bringing people on. in general, it is harder to recruit in rural areas. there is no doubt. our urban areas that -- where there are more trainees and younger people are staying that's where we are establishing our 11 telemental health hubs to be able to help support the rural areas. but you know, this is where we want to see expanded graduate medical education programs in those rural areas. >> do you have a loan forgiveness program? >> we do. it's part of the clay hunt act. we use up all of the dollars you allow us to do. we would like to use more. it is an effective police man. in the clay hunt program you have asked us to do that more
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but didn't appropriate money for us. we are trying to find the additional dollars that will be in july of '18. >> i have more questions i will give them later. i want to thank you all for the job you are doing. thank you. >> yes. >> i think i got this right. we are going to go to senator moran, then to senator murray, then to senator rounds. then to senator tester. and i'll finish up. senator moran? >> mr. chairman thank you very much. secretary thank you for joining us this morning on a huge significant and unfortunately so timely topic. first of all, i want to highlight the hearing that our appropriations subcommittee had in april on this topic. but i want to remind you, mr. secretary, and i understand that senator murray has a question for you about v.a. follow through on a commitment that was made at that hearing. it was committed by the v.a. that we would get monthly reports in regard to your
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efforts, the department's efforts to comply with the inspector general's recommendations and failures at the v.a. in regard to suicide and we have not received those reports on a monthly basis. i'll defer to senator murray, but i would join her in her request that what was promised would actually be followed through on. let me then talk about another topic that senator tester and i have worked on. we have been trying for a long time, in fact, in 2010, now seven years ago, gave the v.a. the authority to hire marriage and family therapists and licensed professional mental health counsellors. the results of that authority have not resulted in any significant hiring of either one of those professionals. i would guess that senator tester and i are interested in this reason for the scarcity of professionals generally.
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but especially as you were indicating in rural communities. and so we have sought and have provided congressional authority for the v.a. to hire. you indicate you are in the process of hiring 1,000 additional professionals, but i would tell you that after seven years, those two categories only account for 2% of the mental health work force at the department of veterans affairs. will you -- senator tester and i and others have a letter to you in this regard that was sent to you just a few days ago. but in this hiring, would you again commit to filling these positions with those professionals, something that has not happened? and if so, how many of those are going to be -- what would your prediction would be who fit an mft or lpmft, and would you
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provide me with those numbers as you fill those positions? and i assume that there will be a priority given in regard to places that are hard to recruit professionals. i also know that you have hiring authorities that are difficult. i don't know what your expediting hiring authorities are. what are they? do you currently -- what do you have at your disposal? and do they apply to mental health professionals? what needs to happen to fix this problem? we've noticed so many times that the things that are having to be posted don't result in any kinds of quick response for hiring at the v.a. we discussed this topic with dr. stephanie davis who testified. she's at the eastern part of our kansas vsn. she testified before our senate
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s subappropriations committee in april. applications can linger four or five months, people find other jobs in the meantime and it becomes even more possible to recruit and retain. we know that positions sit vacant for months or even years while providers go through the process of the federal hiring mechanism. what can you do to get that process expedited? and then finally, mr. secretary, i wanted to tell you that i was just earlier this month at the phoenix v.a. where i saw one of the pilot programs under clay hunt act. it's called be connected. i was impressed. what this is about is having those who have similar circumstances who have served our countries who are veterans themselves who had ptsd and other problems as the counsellors for those who are calling the number. i would be interested in knowing what the v.a. is doing to
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support be connected and are there plans to expand that program elsewhere? >> a lot of questions. i'm going to go really quickly. and anything that i don't do an adequate job, i will follow up. first of all, first of all, on the issue you talked about us not providing timely followup. that's unacceptable. if we say we're going to commit to something, my expectation is we commit to it. i appreciate you letting me know about it. i can assure you my staff will be knowing about that. but we will do better and that's just not the way i want the department run. we will make sure that you get that. on the marriage and mental health counselors, i'll look forward to the letter. i am aware that we continually hear about va's strictness on our accreditation issue. this is particularly a training issue since there are two accreditation programs.
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we are committed to bringing on marriage and family therapists. if dr. carroll has any specific information on numbers, i would defer to him in a second. on the issue of hiring, it's the single most challenging thing that i know of in va. it shouldn't be that hard to get people on board. in the accountability act that we passed together not too long ago, you gave direct hiring authority to medical center directors. that is really helpful to us. it allows us to skip over a lot of the red tape. i want that authority for all of our critical health professionals. i would urge us to work together on that. it's just too hard to get people hired into the va. >> do you have the authority to do what you need to do? >> only under medical center directors. so if we could work on expanding that, i'd love to target it for
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mental health, but we have other health needs as well. and on the be connected program, peer support is something we are really committed to. we think this works. particularly for veterans who understand what they've gone through. thank you for your visit. thank you for mentioning that. that's something we're going full force on. >> do you have other plans for that program elsewhere? >> yes. we already have about 1100 peer support counselors. much of our vet center model is based on that model. we know it works. >> thank you. >> since the resident state of senator moran is kansas that the third mental health hotline center is set up in topeka, kansas, if i'm not mistaken. >> you're correct. >> it really is such an important topic and able to listen to much of the first panel from my office in between meetings and it really was good. i appreciate it.
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thank you for your testimony. thank you for saying this is a number one priority, because it is. but i do remain deeply troubled by the ig's findings from may 2017 that va is not complying with a number of policies including 18% of facilities not meeting their requirement for five out reach activities each month, 11% of high risk patients' medical records did not have a suicide prevention safety plan. and for 20% of inpatients and 10% of outpatients no documentation the patient was provided a copy of the safety plan. coordination of care for patients at high risk of suicide and critical improvements to follow up for high risk patients after discharge. 16% of non-clinical employees did not receive suicide prevention training and more than 45% of clinicians did not complete suicide training within the first 90 days.
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anything less than 100% isn't acceptable. when will all the ig's recommendations be fully implements? >> first of all, this is exactly why the ig is valuable, pointing this out. i have no other mechanism to get data that comprehensive. we have committed to addressing the ig concerns. the reason we have made suicide prevention our number one priority is to fix those issues. we've committed to training. so over this year -- look, 100% is the right goal, but i can't tell you exactly what date we're going to reach that, but we're going to be working really hard to get as close to that as possible as quickly as possible. >> at the veteran's suicide hearing at the va back in april, i asked for monthly updates
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until all of the problems at the crisis line are resolved. va has not done that and that is really unacceptable. i want a commitment to you today that we will get those updates starting right now. >> i think you will get that commitment, yes. >> we intend to see that happen. let me ask you about women veterans. i am really disturbed in the increase in suicide rate among our women veterans. between 2001 and 2014 the rate of suicide for women veterans who do not use va care increased by 98%. i've heard from women veterans many times that they don't think of themselves as veterans and they don't feel welcome at va facilities. it is a significant problem actually that the rand corporation testified in april as well. but this increase in suicide is the most important reason yet that i believe va has to
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redouble its efforts to reach out to women and get them into care. i wanted to ask you what are we doing to address that. >> well, you gave a really important statistic, which is that over the last 15 years between 2001 and 2014 those women that did not receive care in the va, that the rate of suicide went up by an extraordinary number. you said 98%. those that did use the va, we actually saw a decrease, a decrease in suicide rates over that 15 year period of 2.6 %. we know that getting care and access to care makes a difference and saves lives. the issue about making the va more welcoming to women is a critical issue. it's a cultural issue. of course, we are absolutely, as
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this is our number one priority, committed to putting more resources into this. >> this is something we have to keep working on, because if a woman doesn't consider herself as a veteran, she doesn't think about going to the va. if she is not welcome at the va or doesn't feel that the veteran facility is welcoming to her, she won't go. if she has other issues, child care, work, it's doubly hard. this is not an easy problem to solve but we really have to put hearts, minds, resources and as a country recognize women veterans. >> i agree. >> i just have a couple seconds left. i wanted to the i can ask about the va's reach initiative. models to identify veterans who may be at risk of suicide. i want you to tell us how that model works.
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also 14% of the veterans who die by suicide do not come to the va for care. >> that is a big data analytic research project. i said it's time to stop researching it and start putting it into practice. senator tester's point about every day we delay there's going to be more deaths. so we have moved it into the clinical setting. how are you doing, how can we potentially help you? and i meet with those people. dr. carroll has more contact, of course. it's making a difference. i don't have statistics.
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>> are you working with local groups and providers and non-va agencies? >> no. we do not have that data. we have no way of identifying the 14 in the community. that's a big issue for us. >> yeah. >> i think expanding va access in mental health will save lives. that's what i made the decision on other than honorable discharges to do that. we have a big hole here. one of the big holes is with the department of defense. what we're working now with them -- and they're being very cooperative -- is essentially an auto enrollment program, so nobody leaves active service without knowing where they can get their mental health care. i think that's going to be a big deal in eliminating the gap that we have. >> thank you very much. appreciate it. >> let me just echo other's
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praises for the changes you've made in your reign to far. thank you for that. i mentioned earlier with the earlier panel there's a professor of economics out of princeton -- i'll quote the article, rising morbidity among white, non-hispanic americans in the 21st century. i'm trying to figure out is it a specific veterans phenomena or just reflective of the cohort in the va? and also throughout. are you with me? >> yes. >> they find out that the increase for whites was largely accounted for by increasing deaths from alcohol poisoning, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis. although all education groups saw increases in mortality from suicide and poisoning. i could go on. so i guess what i'm trying to figure out is how much of this is unique for the va relative to this study as opposed to it's
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just kind of what we're seeing in society? >> well, first of all, your questions before were excellent. we do not adjust by socioeconomic status. because the way we collect the data off the national data death index and from the cdc data doesn't have a socioeconomic status. >> as a physician when i used to practice, i'd find that usually folks who were a little bit more well to do didn't go to the va for health care. >> our eligibility doesn't allow it. unless it's service connected. >> even service committed he preferred a different facility. for whatever reason. >> yes. . >> do you know the status? >> we are definitely more a safety net organization. >> by proxy, we assume that if we have a higher death rate among those being seen, that would probably affect your overall population?
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>> my background is health services research. i'm going to give you my best educated guess. there is a socioeconomic status component that i think you're identifying, but the veteran population is more than that. you wouldn't see as large a difference. i think it's both in here. >> if it's merely reflective of the larger population, that is tragic but the va represents the hope. >> right. >> if it is an additional risk factor, that is something to be identified and corrected. >> we'll give that to our research team to see if they can do that. we published 75 articles on suicide and suicide prevention last year and we have a good team on this that i think could make tease some of that out. >> my staff has just given me a spreadsheet that's been distributed, the mental health domain composite summary, fiscal year '17, quarter three.
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i have stats for louisiana. i can't say i comprehend it yet. is there a difference in suicide rates associated with different facilities? again, hopefully correcting for that each population is the same. >> the analysis is by state. and the veteran population is homogeno homogenous. >> there is state differences in the population, both at large and for veterans. >> i accept that. there's going to be broad demographic. but, dr. casey pointed out it's among non-hispanic whites. have you done any kind of very rough -- as i was told previously -- yes, we have it
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race and gender. do we have a rough estimate on that? >> those analysis are ongoing. we're looking at ethnicity and race as part of the ongoing evaluation of the data. >> you're sending out this data -- thank you very much. looking at specific facilities. i'm presuming most veterans have a facility of choice. >> how each specific facility is doing? senator murray pointed out we're not getting 100% of these being passed out. i suspect that would vary from facility to facility as well? >> yeah. i think the compliance with screening absolutely is done not only at the facility level but by the specific provider. >> yes. the broader statistics which
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include the national death index may be harder to do by facility. >> you could at least go by state. we need to know is this a va issue or does it reflect broader society. it's va issue, we need to give you tools. >> right. you do know the difference between veterans that are getting care and those who are not. >> you mentioned the safety net, my suspicion is in some places you're serving as a safety net and in some places there's inadequacy. we have to identify that and address it. if you need tools, we have to give them to you. i yield back. >> thank you. and thanks, ranking member, for yielding. i want to follow up on senator murray and senator cassidy talked about the suicide report. i first thank you for being here and thanks to dr. carroll, too. i don't really understand -- my state, 244 veterans took their
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lives and took their own lives in 2014. i want to talk about them and the thousands around the country. i'm not really clear on why you would release that state-by-state report on a friday afternoon at 5:00. that's not really my question. i don't understand why you would do that. talk to me about how you share this data state-by-state, how you share it with veterans, with medical centers, with community providers, with academia who address what you call the national public health issue. >> yeah. we've -- this analysis, which was released on september 15th, friday, at 5:00, is really the first time that we've released that type of specific data. so we're actively trying to get that out and to share it with the groups that you mentioned. there was no attempt to downplay this issue. if there was, it was a bad strategy because what we're seeing is all around the country, that data getting out there and being picked up buthe press, being discussed in forums. this is exactly what we want to
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have happen, and we're actively disseminating it. if you don't know your data, i want every medical center director knowing what their number is, how many veterans they lost. you can't design as effective an intervention. >> that means not just a patient from that medical center. it means -- >> population. >> never got into the v.a. system in franklin county. >> that's the populations. >> talk, new psa employees no vet behind. 14 of 20 vets who take their lives each day don't use v.a. care. talk to us about the reach vet initiative. what metrics you have in place to see how it's working, what your -- what the process to get those 14 who then won't take their lives if they get v.a. care, talk that through.
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>> yeah. so the reach vet program is not for -- is not for those that aren't using v.a. it's for those who are using v.a. that we know are at high risk. the 14 that aren't using v.a., that's where we're beginning to start tackling it through other strategies. letting other than honorable have emergency mental health is a strategy that will bring some of those 14 into the v.a. for others that aren't eligible or choose not to go to the v.a., we're working with community partners, and we're working with veterans service organizations. we're working with the churches and the synagogues to make sure that they understand that they have a responsibility in this. the psa message essentially is suicide prevention is everybody's business. and we need family members, friends, coworkers, to be able to identify people at risk to get them help, whether it's at the v.a. or outside the v.a. >> thank you. thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you for your work on
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this issue. you heard a number of my questions earlier today. >> i did. >> about that difference between the veterans who have used the v.a. and the veterans who have not done so. i know you have been asked a number of questions about that issue so far. i want to focus on the less than honorable discharge group. do you have any thoughts about how that cohort can be better accessed and how they can be encouraged to come forward, because i think that the knowledge about them is also lacking? >> yeah. well, quite frankly, i did what i could. it was one of the first things i did as secretary, just to use the authorities i had to offer
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emergency mental health services. i thought it was wrong that we were not providing access and were letting them out there, and they are at higher risk for suicide as homeless veterans are at higher risk. but i did as much as i can. now, i actually need your help. this, we're going to need legislative changes to allow us to offer other than honorable -- other than honorable discharge people to be able to access our full array of mental health and physical services. all that i was able to do is offer 90 days of emergency treatment. and then i'm trying to find them other places to get care, working in the community. we're going to do everything we can, but it is not the ideal approach. we could use your help in this, senator. >> well, i would like to work with you. i have other questions. >> sure. >> i would hope we can pursue this. as to all of the veterans who right now are, through no fault
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of their own, perhaps, not part of the v.a. >> yeah. >> i know you've been asked about the suicide prevention act. i would also like to follow up on that, particularly as to the funding that is necessary. the president has signed a number of measures dealing with veterans issues. those pieces of legislation have been long in the works. and we have devoted a lot of time and attention to them. i hope that his apparent commitment to those issues will translate into funding, which is really the test. it's fine to wield a pen on measures that were started well before his presidency. now it's a test of his
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commitment. and i think that applies to issues like the veterans crisis line, the suicide prevention measure, and i would like to, again, ask you about women veterans. and what expanded or enhanced efforts you contemplate involving women veterans. >> well, first of all, thank you for highlighting, i think, all of these issues that are important. the president's budget, the requested budget actually has increased funding for both mental health care and women's health care issues. both critically important. so i think that he does share that commitment that you have to seeing us do better in these areas. >> is that amount of money, in urview, sufficient? >> i was very pleased with the
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president's budget. i think that many of the issues that we're dealing with weren't financial issues solely, but in areas that we have to do better in, i'm not only seeking additional funds, as we saw in the president's budget, but i'm actually moving current budget funds into higher priority areas. and so i do think that we have sufficient resources this next year, should the president's budget get approved. >> i would be remissed if i didn't ask you about the west haven veterans facility. we have talked about it. it was built in the 1950s. it's out of date structurally. it needs more than just rehabilitation. it really needs rebuilding. and i wonder where it stands on the list of priorities and whether the president's budget is sufficient to cover the capital improvements there and elsewhere. >> as you know, you and i stood outside that building, and i think your assessment is generous. i trained at the west haven v.a., and i don't think it's
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changed too much since i was there. we are still undercapitalized in the v.a. i think realistically, we can expect to take decades of essentially underfunding and fix it all at once. so we are putting more funds. we have requested more funds into the modernization of v.a., i have announced i want to dispose of 1100 facilities that aren't being utilized well by veterans to put back into facilities that are busy like the west haven v.a. i don't have a specific number of where the projects are, but certainly, i am going to support fixing the west haven v.a. and other facilities that aren't modernized, and part of that is we're going to have to redo our matrix on how we make capital decisions because right now, i will tell you, the number one weighted factor and where the money goes is the seismic improvements.
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while that's really important, i'm not going to say that that's not critical, you're not on a fault line. and it puts facilities like west haven at a disadvantage. we're going to be looking at that. >> i hope i can be generous in pushing west haven to a higher level on the list, as you noted. i was being generous. it has really changed little, if at all. there are some cosmetic improvements, but you well know the level of dissatisfaction that exists about it. and i would add that it is dissatisfaction with the structure and the capital facility not with the staff. >> i agree. >> i want to just give a shout-out to the very dedicated men and women who work for the v.a. in connecticut. and i have no authority to speak
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on behalf of veterans in connecticut, but generally, i have gone to high level of approval in satisfaction. so they deserve our thanks, and they work under conditions that should be better for them and for our veterans. >> i'm sure they will appreciate both of those sentiments. >> and i would like to invite you to come visit, again, and be at that facility with me again. and i want to thank you for that. >> i do have a visit scheduled. i'll let you know. >> okay. >> when that is so we can get there together. >> wonderful, and i thank you, by the way, in the meantime for the work being done on the wi-fi internet connections, which is very important there and at v.a. facilities around the country. >> exactly. thank you. >> i want to add to your answer a second ago. if i'm wrong, i want you to tell me. as you go through your 1,100 evaluation of underutilized facilities to invest in places
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that need more help, you're going to consider rural locations, rural states, populations, things of that matter so north dakota and montana and things with a light population don't lose out on a statistic in terms of the availability of clinic association? >> what i announced is that, first of all, i share the sentiment that we don't want policy that discriminates against locations because the rural or because they're not on seismic fault lines. but what i announced previously was that in the state home money distribution, that the rural areas were never getting from the bottom of the list, so i committed to relooking at those criteria because the state home grant moneys really were going only to very small numbers of states, essentially. but i do want to make sure that we are modernizing the
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facilities in an equal way across the country. >> i want the ranking member to make sure we knew we're looking after our interests as well. >> senator tillis. >> why you're such a good chair, mr. chair. i was going to end with a capital project, but let me go to that because i think this is critically important. you have said that you believe, i believe the president has a real commitment to veterans and accelerating some things and frankly didn't move as quickly as i would have liked for them to have in the past couple of years. but i have the same view in my role in senate armed services. we're always going to have fewer resources than you want. >> right. >> and shame on any member of congress who advocates for moving something up ahead of line where the data doesn't say it's the best way to provide care to the communities that need it. i'm in north carolina. i'm in a 50% urban, 50% rural state with over 1 million veterans. 10% of my population.
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if you told me montana is where the resources need to go to serve that population, that's where i want it to go. along with that, when you're taking a look at optimizing capital projects, shame on any member who tries to come up with a statutory protection for something that you don't think is in the interest of supporting the veterans. i every once in a while call up a v.a. facility the night before i happen to be in town. want to stop by and see them. i said this is not a surprise visit. i just want to talk to you all. i stopped in one a year or so ago who said they made a proposal to consolidate two operations that were only about 40 minutes apart. they thought they could provide better care to the veterans by consolidating the resources and getting more leverage, but we had a member of congress stop that because it happened to affect 75 jobs in their district. that's not the way we should think if we're going to get out of the way and let you support veterans in a more appropriate
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manner. i need to make sure i have your commitment and any time you see us doing something that's at odds what is your best professional judgment is getting the resources to the communities who need it most and making optimal the resources that were given you, i want to know who that is because i think they should be held accountable. not on the electronic medical records. i want to go back to the questions i asked the first panel. actually, i want to thank you for being here because i was rushing in and i mistakenly thought you were in the first panel, but it doesn't surprise me you and your team were here to hear that testimony. i thank you for that commitment. i like the decision that you made for the baseline system, because i think it's an accelerator between dod and v.a., but similar to the question i asked when you were here last, we know we got over 120 instances that have to be consolidated within v.a., but even more importantly, we have non-v.a. care providers out there, choice providers out there. i believe that as you get
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further into the implementation plan that we discussed in my office, that you're going to identify that you need other layers in the technology stack to make sure that we know how prescriptions are being dispensed, whether there's any dangerous interactions, other indicators you can use to make that a more productive experience for the provider and for the patient. and so have you gotten to a point now where you're thinking through how as you're looking at your implementation priorities and your broader transformation plan, the remainder of the stack, or we used to call it gluewear, or buying and configuring tools you're going to need to flesh out that technology stack? >> we've gotten to essentially the principles that you have talked about, saying a system that's going to work into the future is going to have to have the components that frankly you have done a good job of outlining. we haven't gotten to defining which specific tools they are yet and how we're going to meet
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those needs, as we talked about the days of v.a. being a software developer are over, and we're going to be looking at off the shelf current technologies. but there's going to be a lot more definition on that. i think yesterday we wreleased to congress, to you, the 30-day notice of an award of a contract. so we are keeping on the timeline that we talked about. we're marching forward. we have the principles. i have some updates to share with you on the strategic i.t. plan, because i think we are making a lot of progress with that. we are going to announce that we will in this i.t. conversion with obviously your support, we will be sunsetting 80% of the projects that were currently under development, so this will be i think not only the right thing for clinical care, but also the right thing for taxpayers. >> that's great to hear. i'm going to hold my time because i guess i'm the last member to speak. but we do have a number of
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questions for the record on suicide prevention issue. we are, i took note in the first panel, and i have asked my staff to get with the senate armed services staff because i would like to have a committee hearing at the subcommittee level to talk about traumatic brain injury, ptsd, and things that we're doing to do a better job of detecting and treating it, but i would like to add a second panel that then talks about the veterans who may actually -- first off, how do we track those who get an honorable discharge and make sure that we're trying to anticipate or provide interventions for ones who may be at risk of suicide, and then for the ones who have other than honorable discharge, what are we doing to make their experience when they were in the military instructive to any decision about what category of discharge they get, and then finally, we have to come back to the v.a. and get your advice on how we do that for those who have already received that paper and they
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need care. and thank you for pushing the envelope. and i heard you loud and clear, it's time for congress to give you more tools so you can provide more veterans with care. >> thank you. >> thank you, mr. chair. >> senator tillis, are you on the way out the door? you have five minutes. i want to ask you a favor, i have to leave, and senator tester has questions he wants to ask and i don't want to cut him off. i have one i want to be sure is for the record. you adopt the same software being used by dod. that's a huge step forward. does that merger also allow you access to the same information dod has regarding the wounded warrian transition units? >> yes. >> our warriors when they leave the battlefield or leave deployment in battlefield areas, they're asked questions on the computer, answer by computer. it doesn't have a statement. they're answering a computer question. there are questions that give indicators of where there may be somebody at risk for suicide. so you have interoperable software one day soon.
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we'll also have interoperability access to that information. >> there is certainly some exceptions with dod. one of the things i just learned recently, i don't know if you know this, the coast guard doesn't have -- wasn't in their contract, so we're going to have to figure out a way to be interoperable with them or get them into this. so there's some small exceptions and we're working through those. our relationship with dod is extremely cooperative on this project. i think we're helping them in their implementation. they're certainly helping us. but those types of data sources are extremely valuable to us. >> you're to be commended for that move. i'm going to turn it over to the ranking member and ask senator tillis to adjourn the meeting. i appreciate your patience. >> thank you, mr. chairman. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to thank you fellows for being here as well as the first panel. i just want to touch on brak really quick because i think there's some opportunities to get rid of some facilities that aren't being used.
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you would agree manpower and recruitment of manpower is a continuing challenge, wouldn't you? >> absolutely. >> so i would just say, as we look for ways to save money and commonsense ways, what i'm really concerned of, and i know you're not a part of this. if you are, let me know. that they will come in and potentially, if we do it in congress or if you do it administratively, do a brak, and they say montana, they haven't had a doc in years. we say the vets aren't using this and close it down. same thing could be said for senator rounds of south dakota. if something like that were to happen, i guarantee there would be a bipartisan explosion on this committee, which wouldn't be a good thing. i just bring that to your attention. i'm all for making sure that you're getting rid of properties you don't use anymore, and have outlived their usefulness and
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utilizing the dollars. that's a good government thing and i applaud those efforts. when we get into the -- because i'm going to tell you, i know there are some people who want to do a full-blown brack, and i'm going to tell you some of the metrics aren't going to speak well. not because these aren't good facilities, because they haven't been staffed. i just want to bring that up. in your testimony, you said that suicide prevention was the top priority. >> mm-hmm. >> you also mentioned that v.a. has integrated mental health services into the primary care at v.a. centers and at c-box. tell me what that means in montana. >> well, what it means is that v.a. by far is leading the strategy across the country, where if you're in your primary care office, you don't have to say i am -- i have been given a number to go and to call for a mental health appointment and then go down the street to the mental health department. you get that behavioral health care as part of your primary care office experience. >> how are you going to -- i agree.
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>> it's about destigmatization. >> how are you going to do it when you have to have somebody there that knows the issue, right? >> you have to have the mental health professionals with your primary care people. >> okay. >> co-located. >> in a small population state like montana, we're about 20 short right now. >> yeah. >> i mean, the best laid plans without the people infrastructure blow it. >> it gets back to what you were saying. we have a manpower issue. it's not -- and it's geographically distinct, particularly in areas that don't have a lot of medical schools and other places with untrained professionals. >> so senator moran talked about other opportunities out there that could get us besides psychiatrists and psychologists, other folks who could help. is that proceeding? is it proceeding well?
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and are we making some inroads? i'm going to tell you that we have talked about a lot of metrics today, about what population is committing suicide and what altitude. we have to get our arms around the whole baby before we can even get to a point where we're talking about -- >> well, look. no other health system i'm aware of has suicide prevention coordinators. that's a v.a. strategy that i think is super effective. we're using peer support specialists in a way that no other health system is using. and of course, we're trying to hire traditional mental health professionals, licensed social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists. do you have a comment on the marriage therapists and family therapists? >> we're encouraging strongly as we can facilities to hire them. that is part of their -- within their purview. the other thing we're doing, to your question about primary care, mental health integration, is using telemental health. using our telemental health
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system to provide providers in places where they may not be able to hire a mental health professional. >> can you tell me, and c-box overall, do they all have tele health capabilities? >> not all of them. we list them on our website, which ones do. certainly, the rural ones will be much more likely to have it than you would have in new york city. >> really? >> right. but one of the cool things, i don't know if you have ever seen it, that just amazes me, you go into a primary care office in a medical center, and right there is a digital display that if the primary care doctor wants to dial in a psychologist or psychiatrist, they can do it right from their office and the patient is there. i don't see that in many places in the private sector. so that's that integration you were talking about. >> that's good. i want to go back to manpower for just a second. >> mm-hmm. >> earlier in the year, you
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testified that you were going to try to get 1,000 additional mental health providers this year. >> mm-hmm. >> your testimony today says that you have hired over 600 new mental health care providers. i'm not going to ask what the difference between additional and new are. but has there been a net increase in the number of v.a. mental health clinicians? >> you just asked it, then. and the answer is no. the 623 is just keeping us even. we are not succeeding at that 1,000 new professionals. i need help in doing that. >> doctor. >> yes. >> what do we need to do? >> what we need to do is to, a, give us more direct hiring authority. just like you did in the accountable act for my medical center directors. make it easier for me to hire. and we talked about the fact that our recruitment and retention dollars were actually cut in half. that was short-sighted, quite frankly. we need the tools that the private sector has to be able to recruit the very best health
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care professionals. of course, areas of tackling this, don't tie one of my hands behind my back. >> i want to be clear. did we cut your recruitment retention dollars? >> to pay for the legislation, yes, sir. yes. >> keep going. >> so a competitive process so i can hire quicker. >> recruitment dollars. >> recruitment dollars and the flexibility to be able to help expand training. those are the three areas that would really make a difference. look, there's a national shortage here, so you know, i think we all worry about not just what's happening in v.a. but everywhere. these are all important strategies, particularly the training one. >> yeah. i'll just make one side comment. you know this better than i do. you're right, it is a national problem. but with veterans, we made a promise to them.
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>> yes. >> so we can't have a bunch of excuses. we have to have more solutions. >> right. >> appreciate you guys being here. thank you. >> thank you. >> on the last point, we're about to adjourn. i'm not going to ask other questions although i have them for the record. i remember this discussion within secretary mcdonald, i think there was a series of news stories that some of our members got tempted into amplifying that had to do with training and retention programs that you thought were critically important. and i think what we need to do is understand, if you're going to make this an attractive place for professionals to come to, then you better have professional development and a retention program similar to the private sector. and when you see some of the dollars that you were spending on training, i'm sure i could find something that was not a good idea, but i saw the numbers that the v.a. was spending on a per employee basis, and it was
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pennies on the dollar compared to what i would have spent at a partner at price waterhouse. you're never going to get to that ratio, but we have to not talk out of both sides of the mouth. on the one hand saying we need to give you recruiting, and then we want to micromanage how you spend it. i have never been the head of a major health care system before. you have. now you're the head of one of the biggest in the world. i trust you to make a decision about how you have therapists and doctors and technicians and other people you want to attract and have a value proposition so you're getting your fair share of the best resources out there in the private sector. that's another one where when we hear us say one thing and do another thing here, please give me your commitment that you'll say that's not a good idea. >> thank you. >> we're going to adjourn the committee hearing. and we're going to leave the record open for one week for additional questions. it's always a pleasure to see the leadership from the v.a. this meeting is adjourned. >> thank you.
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join us tonight when president trump is expected to highlight his tax reform proposal. he's scheduled to speak at the heritage foundation's annual president's club meeting. you can see that live later today starting at 7:30 eastern on our companion network, cspan. coming up tomorrow, attorney general jeff sessions will testify at an oversight committee. live coverage starts at 10:00 a.m. eastern on cspan, online at or listen with the free cspan radio app. sunday night on after words. >> over 90% of sexual harassment cases end up in settlements. what does that mean?
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that means that the woman pretty much never works in her choser career ever again. and she can never talk about it. she's gagged. now how else do we solve sexual harassment suits? we put in arbitration clauses and employment contracts, which make it a secret proceeding. so, again, nobody ever finds out about it if you file a complaint. you can never talk about it. ever. nobody ever knows what happened to you and in most cases you're also terminated from the company and the predator is left to still work in the same position in which he was harassing you. so this is the way our society has decided to resolve sexual harassment cases, to gag women so that we can fool everyone else out there that we've come so far in 2017. >> former fox news host gretchen carlson talks about sexual harassment in her new book, be fierce, stop harassment.
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watch after words sunday night at 9:00 eastern on cspan2's book tv. the cspan bus is traveling across the country. on our 50 capitals tour. we recently stopped in charleston, west virginia, asking folks what's the most important issue in their state. >> hey, may name is isaiah smith and i'm a prelaw major here at the university of charleston. i think the most important issue for west virginia is somewhat twofold. i think it's an issue of poverty, which also ties in to our drug epidemic. lack of jobs, lack of opportunity, just makes the drug epidemic worse. and it's just a cycle that builds upon itself. >> my name is carissa sellers and i'm a senior political science major at the university of charleston. one of the biggest issues i see in west virginia right now is governor justice pushing a road bond bill for a special election that's going to supposedly pump
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millions into our infrastructure which sounds really really nice. but when you look at the big picture, it's going to hurt my generation and millenials in the future. it says it's not going to raise taxes, it's not going to be a problem. but if you look down the road, it's just going to screw west virginia long term and that's not something we need right now. >> i'm the speaker of the house of delegates. in west virginia we've had some very difficult economic times over the past five or six years, particularly in our coal industry. one of our top priorities is to improve our economy and to be able to put people back to work. we've taken a great deal of different steps to do that and that's what our priority is right now. >> my name is lauren, i'm a senior here at the university of charleston. i am double majoring in english and political science. i actually did my senior project on west virginia's, what we would consider to be a well known issue is our opioid
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dependency issue. so determining a perspective to look at that from, whether it be larger perspective or a more individual perspective. in determining an issue that would be more effective individually for patients. >> my name is danny jones and i'm the mayor of the capital city of west virginia, charleston. i think the most important issue for us is keeping young people here because if we plan things around the youth and we're able to keep the youth, then we will have a state that is young and vibrant and exciting. and full of new ideas. i think that continuous continu evolvement which is what will make our state great. >> voices from the states on cspan. the american arab anti-discrimination committee hosted its annual conference here in washington, d.c. last month. this next portion includes a


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