Special to the Journal
Georgia – Branko Radulovacki, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate and a psychiatrist in private practice in Atlanta, issues the following statement regarding the Atlanta VA Mental Health Services Hearing in Congress:
“It is rare, in the current political climate, to find Republicans and Democrats agreeing on anything. However, I agree wholeheartedly with Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) that our veterans deserve ready access to quality mental health care. Since they’re not getting this care at Atlanta’s VA Hospital, Wednesday’s congressional hearing is worth the effort.
“Unfortunately, that hearing will not generate the response this crisis deserves unless we look beyond government spending and commit to building a community-based safety net for veterans in need of mental health care.
“Four years ago, Carol Graham, wife of Major General Mark Graham, shared the story of her ROTC son’s suicide at a conference I was hosting. She spoke passionately about the need for greater awareness of a growing mental health crisis in the military. Soon afterward, Maj. Gen. Graham appeared on CNN to discuss his family’s loss, the increasing number of suicides in the military, and the need to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help.
“Given the military culture of silent suffering, these were profoundly courageous acts. It was also a critical step in creating awareness of a coming tidal wave of mental health needs.
“Two years later, Rev. Robert Certain, a retired USAF Reserves Colonel, speaking at another conference, cited a Rand Study which indicated that proper treatment of veterans with PTSD or depression could save almost 1/3 of the anticipated multi-billion-dollar mental health care cost. Then, he pointed to the lack of resources available to meet the exponentially growing need. His recommendation? Not more VA funding, but the creation of more outreach efforts like Care For The Troops, a nonprofit he founded to equip civilians to help those at risk of “falling through the cracks” post-deployment.
“Sadly, Rev. Certain’s organization cannot singlehandedly meet the needs of all of the veterans seeking — but failing to receive — help at Atlanta’s VA. Nor, as Sen. Isakson has already discovered, can the VA (and its subcontracting service providers) seem to do the job.
“The question is: So, now what?
“We begin by agreeing that we cannot – and must not – ignore mental health issues resulting from the willing service of the brave men and women in our nation’s military. They did their part to protect us; now, we must do our part to protect them.
“That means responding to this crisis by acknowledging that we all have a stake in addressing it – effectively, and immediately. Four suicides at the VA were not recognized by those in charge as urgent warnings that the system was failing to serve those in its care. Our veterans deserve much better – from all of us.
“I stand with Sen. Isakson as he brings a harsh spotlight to this crisis. It is a problem we must solve – and, we should not wait for government to solve it. We need to bring more faith-based and secular service organizations together to bridge the gap — whether as a crisis-intervention, or better yet, as a long-term partnership between government and community.
“Either way, our focus must be on meeting veterans’ mental health needs as effectively as possible. We owe them nothing less.”