As a proud member of American Legion Post 562 in Cumming, I know firsthand the patriotism of America's veterans - a patriotism not of words, but of deeds and sacrifice. Some members of our Armed Forces pay the ultimate price. Others - including soldiers and Marines I have had the honor of visiting at Walter Reed Army Medical Center - bear terrible wounds that they will carry the rest of their lives.
I have always believed that the United States Government - and we as citizens - have a moral contract with those who have served in uniform. We have a duty to ensure that our veterans receive high-quality health care.
An important component of this care is providing our veterans with high-quality mental health services. Too often, the physical wounds of combat are repaired, but the mental damage - the psychological scars of combat - remains untreated. Indeed, it is a shocking fact that nearly 1,000 veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) take their own lives each year.
This summer, I joined with Congressman Leonard Boswell in introducing the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act of 2006. This bill is named in honor of a young hero from Grundy Center who killed himself soon after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. It would direct the VA to create a comprehensive program to address the growing suicide rate among veterans returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Research has shown that we need a broader strategy for addressing the mental health needs of service members exposed to the stress and trauma of war. One study showed that about 17 percent of active-duty service members who served in Iraq have screened positive for anxiety, depression, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Taking note of this, I introduced legislation directing the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to improve the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD. My bill would require the VA to create a curriculum and required protocols for training VA staff to better screen for PTSD. It also would require the VA to commit additional staff and resources to meeting this challenge.
During my years as a Navy pilot, I learned one of the most important lessons of my life: Never leave a buddy behind. That principle does not only apply to the battlefield. It also applies after our service men and women return home to civilian life.
This Veterans Day, let us honor the service and sacrifice of our veterans by redoubling our commitment to care for and honor those who have fought for us. We must work to ensure that our veterans receive high-quality physical and mental health services that they so richly deserve.