Source: United States House of Representatives – Congressman Malinowski (NJ-7)
(Washington, DC) Today Congressman Tom Malinowski testified before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee about the need for greater investment in innovative solutions to address the mental health crisis in the veterans’ community. Watch his remarks here.
“Thank you so much Chairman Takano and Ranking Member Roe. I really appreciate the chance to testify on behalf of my district in New Jersey.
We often pause to thank veterans for their service in uniform; we don’t often enough appreciate their service to us out of uniform. When I was growing up, I was privileged to have WWII and Korea vets as my mentors, teachers, and coaches; when I worked at the State Department and the NSC, every national security decision I took part in was informed by the advice of veterans who had seen war first hand; now I’m lucky to serve with one of the largest freshman House classes of military veterans in recent memory.
But we’ve got to recognize that the men and women returning to civilian life from military service today, after nearly 20 years of constant war zone deployments, are facing a special set of problems in reintegrating into civilian society including mental health problems, that deny many of them the rewards they have earned that deny us the benefits of their continued service.
If today is an average day, as you well know, 20 veterans, servicemembers, reservists, and members of the National Guard will die by suicide. In New Jersey alone 67 veterans committed suicide in 2016.
Veterans groups in my district have emphasized to me that the best way to address the trauma and sense of isolation that many of our returning warriors feel is to support peer to peer programs that connect them to the community.
The New Jersey Veterans Network, for example, runs a mobile outreach program to make sure that every veteran, who has sacrificed so much for our country, receives the resources they need and deserve.
Part of this work involves connecting them with VA services and other VFW/American Legion-type networks. But they stress that the most important part of their work revolves around connecting vets with volunteer mentors and allies who are willing to help in their local communities. I think we should be looking for ways to support more of these grassroots-level programs built around veterans helping fellow veterans.
I have been heartened by hearing of the past successes of the VA’s Peer Specialist Program. Suffering vets that have someone alongside them that’s been down the same road are much more likely to follow treatment plans and achieve recovery. I would support any efforts to reinforce and expand this type of peer-to-peer program.
I am also heartened by some more specialized programs I’ve seen in my district including programs such as equine therapy. I recently visited a wonderful program run by an organization called Spring Reins of Life who are recipients of the VA Adaptive Sports Grant. We need to do more to ensure that these kinds of programs can be covered by our healthcare system perhaps exploring the possibility of a dedicated billing code.
Senator Tester’s mental health bill S.785, includes a provision in support of these kinds of therapies. This bipartisan bill has many other important provisions and I’m very happy to hear that you are working hard on a House companion bill which I strongly support and looking forward to working on you with.
Mr. Chairman, I also fully support the legislation that you have passed through the committee to date. I was proud to co-sponsor on H.R.2435, the Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, which will create a task force to look at how the VA could better use public lands and spaces to treat veterans with mental health problems. I look forward to voting for it when it comes to the House Floor.
With that I just want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to work with you to give back to those who have done so much to give to our country. Thank you, Sir.”