Benishek addressing veterans’ suicide

WASHINGTON, DC:   Dr. Dan Benishek (MI-01) today led a bipartisan effort in the House of Representatives to press Veterans’ Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to more closely examine the psychological effects of blast injuries during war on our service members and veterans and any possible connection to high suicide rates.

“Far too many of our veterans and military personnel have taken their own life after bravely serving our nation. Frankly, it’s tragic and unacceptable. I am hopeful that by working together we can make sure our guys and gals in the military and the VA have the support they need to recover from the damaging psychological effects of war,” said Dr. Benishek, a surgeon who worked at the VA Medical Center in Iron Mountain for 20 years and Michigan’s only member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

Dr. Benishek was joined by 52 Members of Congress from both parties in sending a letterto the Departments of Defense and Veterans’ Affairs asking questions regarding the connection between blast injuries and military and veteran suicide. Suicides have traditionally spiked after periods of “great drawdown” in the active-duty force. As the American military presence in Afghanistan ends by the close of 2014, more information is needed to allow us to gain a better understanding of the unique psychological impact of blast injuries on our service members.

The bipartisan letter, led by Dr. Benishek, reads in part: “Suicides among service members and veterans continue at unacceptably high levels, despite efforts by the Department of Defense (DOD), Veterans Affairs (VA), Veterans Service Organizations (VSO), and the private sector. Suicides in 2012 among active duty personnel reached 349, a record level. In addition, according to the VA’s 2012 Suicide Data Report released February 1, 2013, certain segments of the veteran population may be chronically under-reported, meaning that the current estimate of 18 to 22 veteran deaths by suicide per day may in fact be underestimated.”