February 13, 2015
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and James Lankford (R-Okla.) sent the following letter on Thursday to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald, requesting consideration of Oklahoma to be the location for the implementation of the pilot programs authorized in the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.
The legislation passed by unanimous consent in both chambers of Congress and was signed into law by the President on Thursday.
The text of the letter is as follows:
February 12, 2015
The Honorable Robert A. McDonald
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary McDonald:
This month, Congress passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act by strong, bipartisan support to facilitate the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide the increased assistance to ensure those that served in our military are supported in their transition back to civilian life, while receiving the necessary support and benefits. This bill establishes two pilot programs to assist those goals – the community outreach pilot program and the education loan repayment pilot program. Therefore, respectfully we request your consideration of Oklahoma to be a location for the implementation of the pilot programs authorized in the Clay Hunt SAV Act.
In Oklahoma, the veteran’s population roughly 340,000 is served by a strong network of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilities. We are thankful for the hard work of the VA staff in their work to support the Oklahoma veterans, however, the state is struggling to provide the care necessary for those veterans. The VA facilities in Oklahoma are experiencing challenges in recruiting psychiatrists because they are unable to compete with the private sector, leading to a heavy workload with a small number of overworked staff. In fact, there are multiple psychiatry positions that have been open for over a year. Additionally, Oklahoma is ranked 49th of the 50 states in terms of the severity of mental health cases, and lacks in available resources for treatment. From 2005 – 2012, the annual suicide rate among veterans in Oklahoma increased by 34 percent, totaling 1,018 veteran suicide deaths during this time. Despite these challenges, the staff have worked hard to provide the best care possible. The implementation of the pilot programs in Oklahoma will be especially beneficial for the VA and our veterans, but also allow the VHA to fully integrate these services within a population that has displayed a need for them.
For these reasons, I am certain Oklahoma will serve as an ideal location to implement the pilot programs authorized in the Clay Hunt SAV Act. The Oklahoma community, with one of the largest populations of veterans in the nation, has long been strong supporters of our veterans and their families. Thank you for your time.
James M. Inhofe, United States Senator
James Lankford, United States Senator