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May 05, 2022

King Urges Top Army Official to Address Veteran Suicide “Epidemic” by Studying, Improving Transition to Civilian Life

Watch Senator King’s questioning HERE, and download broadcast quality HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) today asked a top Pentagon official to address the mental health and suicide epidemic facing America’s veterans by providing more resources for retiring servicemembers. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator King highlighted the unacceptable number of military suicides that occur during the transition from active duty to veteran status and asked Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth to take large-scale action to address the crisis. King also continued his calls for the Department of Defense to commit as many resources to the transition out of the Armed Services as they do to recruiting.

“I work with a lot of veterans in Maine, and one of the problems that keeps coming up is the weakness of the transition from active duty to veteran status – the handoff from the Defense Department to the VA,” said Senator King. “Many of the veteran suicides take place in that relatively short period of time between active duty and civilian status. I believe that you should put as much resources, and time and effort and people into transition out as you do to recruiting in. Can you address that problem?”

“Certainly Senator, and I think there is data that shows that transition out of the service back into the civilian community can be a critical time. We do try to work very closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that there is a warm handoff, and with the transition programs we have for folks getting out of the Army, we try to make sure that they have the resources to know what to expect, to try and link them to employment resources, and things like that,” replied Secretary Wormuth. “I think that it something that we can continue to work on, and frankly I’ve heard some folks say ‘the transition programs helped me learn how to tie a tie and to do a resume,’ but psychologically making the adjustment to going back into the civilian world isn’t something that I’ve heard people say that they get as much emphasis on. So I think that’s an area we could work on.”

“I hope you will, and I hope you’ll not only commit to working on it, but work on it in a systematic way. Perhaps appoint a task force or some group whose responsibility it is to talk about and think about and work on this problem,” Senator King concluded. “As you know, we have an epidemic of veteran suicides, and suicide in the military, this is one place where I think we can make a difference. So thank you very much and I hope you will follow up in an urgent way on this problem.”

Representing one of the states with the highest rates of veterans per capita, Senator King has worked to address the epidemic of military and veteran suicides. In February, he pushed a top Pentagon nominee to prioritize military suicide prevention by using data and technology to improve coordination between the Department of Defense and the VA. The conversation came shortly after Senator King sat down with a 20-year Air Force Veteran to discuss the issue of insufficient data on military suicides as part of his monthly interview series Answering the Call: Maine’s Veteran Voices. Senator King has also recently introduced the Save Our Servicemembers (S.O.S.) Act, which would work to improve Department of Defense’s servicemember suicide prevention efforts, and cosponsored legislation to designate 9-8-8 as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Veterans Crisis line which the Senate unanimously passed last year. In addition, Senator King has consistently worked to improve the services for Maine veterans across the state, including at the Togus campus in Augusta

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