tv Key Capitol Hill Hearings CSPAN May 17, 2016 7:00pm-12:01am EDT
drugs in some way. the manufacturers of these synthetic drugs keep changing the chemical makeup to try to skirt the law and claim their product are not illegal. synthetic marijuana has two to five times the strength, amount of tch than normal marijuana, and a 1,400% increase in hospital visits from 2009 to 2012. it affects teenagers of public housing, homeless city shelters and is quite literally flooding our streets. in the previous session of congress, the fop supported legislation to add synthetic bath salts, marijuana and other synthetic drugs. the chemical manufacturers have found loopholes for manufacturing and distributing these drugs or analog drugs because they're similar but not chemically identical to the
scheduled substances. with the loopholes, abusers of synthetic substance all know exactly what to do with them. they ingest them, snort them to get a dangerous and unpredictable high. in the past few years, we have found even more -- seen more new drug of fentanyl, synthetic fentanyl used by doctors is the most powerful opioid in medicine. according to the d.e.a., most of what's found on the street is not diverted from hospitals but from china or mexico. people buy it on the streets with no idea it's fentanyl. it's stronger than heroin. a quarter of a milligram, .25 milligrams can kill you. to put in perspective just how little .25 milligrams is, a typical baby aspirin is 81 milligrams. if you cut that 81 milligram tablet into 324 pieces, one of these pieces would be equivalent to a quarter milligram.
80% of all fentanyl seizures in 2014 were concentrated in ohio, massachusetts, pennsylvania, maryland, new jersey, kentucky, virginia, florida, new hampshire and indiana. i'd like to thank the committee for hearing our national f.o.p. representation. >> thank you, officer smith. i now recognize mr. eckhart. if you could turn your microphone on. for five minutes. thank you very much. >> before i begin, i'd like to make sure each of the committee members has a copy of the brochure. thank you. as was stated, my name is devon eckhart. ais i'm joined by my wife, veronica. for very personal reasons we chose to join you today as you dedicate time to better understanding the threats and issues surrounding new psychoactive substances somet e sometimes referred to as synthetic drugs. the epidemic rate they're spreading, severity of destructive effects in the u.s. and globally and the deadly impact they're having upon our countries, communities and our families and it's our sincere
hope and prayer each of you will leverage both your individual and collective power to do more than simply discuss this growing problem but rather choose to take action now and make changes necessary to eradicate these deadly poisons and their proliferation. it's my hope that my testimony will help preside some heart to the head knowledge that you hear so frequently in these conversations. sadly, my wife, family and i tragically know all too well the devastating impact of synthetic drugs. in july of 2014, our 19-year-old son, connor, was a bright, vibrant young man with a full life ahead of him. he was really what most would have considered the all-american young boy. he had a great job. he was preparing to go back to college. he loved music, surfing, the outdoors. he had lots of friends. and of course, he was deeply loved by his family, his sisters, his mother, and of course, me, his father.
this first photo here was a family shot taken july 5th of 2014. it was the last time we'd be together like this as a family. eight days later, connor was with a new friend. he made the seemingly innocent decision, he agreed to try something called spice, a synthetic poison. the result was the second photo there. after many days in the hospital with our son in a coma, he was ultimately declared brain dead. connor died july 16th, 2014. after one smoke of illegal high purchased at a local store. at the time, we were unaware of mpss and we made the decision to share our story publicly to be
painfully transparent and naked with our tragedy before a watching world with the simple hopes that, perhaps, it might change one person's life. it might spare them and their family the horrific circumstances that we were facing and that we now live with each day. since the death of our son, 671 days ago, we've met far too many parents who've also lost their children to synthetic drugs like spice. and through our outreach, speaking and educatione esffort over the past 671 days we've communicated with literally hundreds of thousands of people throughout the united states and around the world who lost loved ones or had their lives tragically destroyed by synthetic drugs. unfortunately, what happened to connor is not unique. far too many people have suffered irreparable harm including death as a result of trying or using these poisons. however, what is unique about his story is how it has received an overwhelming global response to what we shared publicly through social media, news
interviews, tv, radio broadcasts around the world. his story has cut through the racial, socioeconomic, geographic and religious barriers typically encountered. we know that mpss are affecting everywhere, everyone. we're not one voice. connor is not one face or some statistic. we represent the voice and the face of many others just like us. we've had the opportunity to reach millions of people on this subject. we've been interviewed by most of the major news and media outlets around the u.s. and globally and, of course, we've leveraged social media. we've had individual unique facebook posts that have reached millions at a time with one reaching over 37 million people globally. we've had the opportunity to speak in many settings. we've worked with and spoken to senators, legislators, law enforcement officials, and many in government. even met with the lord from the house of lords in the uk this past summer as we were there on this subject.
we worked with numerous organizations in an effort to educate and increase awareness on the dangers of synthetic drugs and worked to change laws so these poisons are removed from our street, our stores and our communities but more must be done. the problem is getting worse. hundreds of new synthetic drug compounds have appeared around the world in the last few years. sometimes spreadsing at the rate of a new drug per week and we're allowing these to come into our country. illicit drug manufacturers are constantly working and changes the formulas developing new chemical derivatives in order to evade the laws and frankly they're working faster than we are. the issue of mpss needs to be addressed and needs it be done now. when this congressional gathers h ing has ended, you return home. you return to your families, your children, those you love and care for. when we return home, we return to a family that's been forever
changed because the death of our beloved son as a result of synthetic drugs. as long as the people around the world pushing these poisons into our communities know there are little or no consequence for their actions, and they too kdo this, we'll continue to see the spread of synthetic drugs and the terrible harm they're bringing to our families and youth and communities. you're in positions of influence and leadership and we're pleading with you to please take action. just don't talk about and debate the issues. bring about change that will get these substances out of our communities and deal appropriately with those behind the manufacturing and distribution of mpss globally. thank you for your time and your consideration on this. >> thank you, mr. eckhart. thank you for your courage. i appreciate your wife being here also. thank you. dr. nichols, i recognize you your five minutes. >> congressman buck -- is my microphone on? congressman buck, members of the committee, thank you for the
opportunity to appear today. during my career, i worked with synthetic drugs possessing a researcher's schedule 1 d.e.a. registration mi registration. moye goal was to understand how the structure of the molecule -- thus better understanding how these substances act in the brain. i am very concerned about the potential harms to human health presented by synthetic drugs. their availability requires a response, including regulation. yet i do not believe that the proposed legislation would have prevented the recent emergence of spice mixtures. rather they focus on already known controlled substance types. we badly need reasonable approaches to controlling new chemo types of synthetics. stemming the flow of dangerous synthetic chemicals. an appropriate response should consider three points. first, allowing research on potential therapeutic uses. second, legislation should be guided by rigorous science. and third, the impact on mass incarceration. especially in cases where substances have not been fully
vetted by the scientific community. few investigators will pursue research with schedule 1 drugs. various researching schedule 1 substances diskuj engagement. obtaining a schedule 1 license is not a trivial matter. a researcher must be very motivated to obtain one even if the investigator requires only small drug amounts that do not represent a potential for diversion. in most cases, researchers are funded, for example, by nida, to study only the deleterious properties of a specific drug of abuse, but it is also important to have funding available for research to identify beneficial properties of schedule 1 substances. as with recent medical marijuana. the cost of a schedule 1 -- research on schedule 1 drugs is important because in the last decade clinical studies indicated a schedule 1 drug may have unique therapeutic ef cficy in treatinga ining anxiety and
addiction to alcohol. the only hallucinogen available without a license was called doi. he discovered quite by accident that doi has potent anti-inflammatory properties indicating potential efficacy in treating cardiovascular disease and asthma. had doi been a schedule 1, he never would have discovered this therapeutic break throuthrough. depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and others. ironically, the kinds of substances we are concerned with here today act in the brain and it's quite possible that new medicines will result from more research on them. any responsible legislation should protect research that might lead to the discovery of new medicines. without solid scientific evidence, it's unwise to schedule new molecules with untested potential. sometimes changing a single item on a molecule can dramatically alter its pharmacology. superficial comparisons of
chemical resistance, farm -- f example, welbutrin, effective antidepressant has no abuse potential. there are hundreds of thousands of synthetic compounds that could be made and we still know very little about just a few of the most recent ones. also, there's no schedule category for drugs that have also not been shown to have high abuse potential. we should research compounds flagged by law enforcement scheduling only those with demonstrated public health and safety risks. input from the scientific medical community would preclude the scheduling of compounds with no demonstrated public health dangers providing needless prosecution and incarceration of individuals for using these substances. persons who manufacture and district these substances that harm human health should be held accountable. many people today don't believe making users criminals for simple use is appropriate. use of psychoactive substance is
a private health problem, not a criminal matter. the war on drugs has been largely unsuccessful in preventing drug use and contributed to our country having the largest prison population in the world. a large percentage of whom were incarcerated as a result of nonviolent drug offenses. in summary, the proliferation of new synthetic substances represents a great threat to the health of our youth and regulation must be a component to the solution of this problem. but i strongly believe that drug control and scheduling decisions should be grounded in the best science. there must be balance between the needs of research and enforcement so that potential new therapeutic discoveries are not lost by restricting access to novel compounds. humans and adolescents in particular are known to be curious and experiment but most pass through that phase without serious consequences. draconian penalties and felony convictions for use only add to the problem. thank you. >> thank you, dr. nichols. we will not proceed under the five-minute rule with questions for the witnesses. i will recognize the vice chairman, mr. gohmert, from
texas. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank all the witnesses for being here. it is an important subject. and mr. eckhart, i know it was obviously very difficult for you. what a handsome young man you and your wife had. obviously brought a lot of joy. you mentioned that he bought it legally. ever find out how he heard about this and where he purchased it? >> connor was with a new friend that day. he had actually been offered -- i think it's on. >> yeah. i think it is. >> can you hear me okay? >> yep. >> he'd actually been offered marijuana. he declined. he didn't want that. didn't want to be around it. as an alternative, the synthetic drugs were suggested and they were purchased at a local smoke
shop along with, you know, other tobacco products. i think truly was viewed as a safe alternative. >> because it was legal. >> legal. >> yes. so it must be okay. >> yeah, and i think, you know, there's -- youth find themselves often in situations of peer pressure and he was declining one thing and it was a way to concede -- >> he was acting admirably, relying on his government that if it was too harmful, it would be illegal, obviously. and obviously, as you and your wife have been doing, you've been raising awareness. if he had been aware of the dangers, obviously he was sharp enough and moral enough that he would have turned it down and just didn't know the risk. mr. milione, how big is the market for illicit prescription
drugs compared to heroin? >> the market for prescription, illicit, prescription opioids is massive. it would be hard to put a number on it. if you put it in overdose numbers, we're talking 18,000, 19,000 overdoses in one year of prescription opioids. with heroin, you have almost 9,000. heroin is trending up. you have a massive prescription opioid problem. >> so is the opioid trending down or just heroin trending up? >> we don't see a downward trend in prescription opioid abuse or overdoses. that's trending up. not at quite the rate that the heroin is trending up. they're both trending up. heroin is intersecting, unfortunately, on that graph. >> isn't it interesting as our federal government is forcing people to turn away from god,
they're searching for answers in other places that are not -- not so good for them. do you know what the profit margin for a kilogram of synthetic cannabinoid is? >> it's a massive profit margin. so for maybe $1,500, $1,000, up to $2,000, you could buy a kilogram of synthetic substance, synthetic cannabinoid and 13 milligrams of let's say, marshmallow leaf, and turn that into about $250,000. into $250,000 of profit. >> dr. nichols, you wrote an article in january of 2011 where you expressed remorse because someone had used your published research to produce a substance
that caused six deaths. how could they have used your article to produce that? i mean, did you go into that kind of detail? or it's hard to believe they could have taken your article and use that. >> the situation is, the chemists who are involved in making these substances are quite accomplished. i think many of them must have ph.d.s. so we published in the open scientific literature, and i'd be doing studies of ecstasy, its mechanism of action. >> right. >> one of the compounds we had made was called mta, and in the assay we used was red, it really identified compounds which caused the release of a brain trarns mitter called serotonin and doesn't represent the effects of ecstasy but somebody apparently in the netherlands saw the paper we published, actually we published it was a potential antidepressant when we actually looked at it. they saw we made it -- the synthetic methods are in all the published literature. they made a batch of it and
ironically put it into tablets called flatliners. this was really the first case where i was really shocked because all medicinal chemists who work in this field publish their work in the open literature and if you you work with cocaine analogs, hallucinogens, it takes someone who can mine that literature to find the kind of compound they want to work with. >> but you weren't publishing the recipe or anything. >> it's in the scientific publication -- >> but not in your article. >> no, not in the essay. no. >> i'm just saying i think you blame yourself to much for that. thank you. i yield back. >> chair recognizes the ranking member from texas, miss jackson lee. >> thank you very much. this is a very important hearing. i want to thank each of the witnesses. mr. mill loan and mr. smith. mr. eckhart. and certainly dr. nichols.
thank you so much. i hope i pronounced mr. milione almost correctly. i was previously in a meeting and i will have to go to another meeting dealing with criminal justice but this is a very important hearing. let me thank the chairman as well, mr. buck, let me also thank the chairman of the subcommittee, mr. sensenbrenner and the chairman of the full committee and mr. conyers, ranking member of the full committee. i am grateful for the work that we have done to organize this hearing and bring the use and abuse of synthetic drugs to the attention of the subcommittee on crime. we have several witness here today who will provide us with their own unique perspectives regarding the effects and dangers of synthetic drugs. my home state has been significantly affected by proliferation of synthetic drugs. cush is a street name for the most popular illegal substance in houston right now and has caused great harm. it's a designer drug made from combinations of synthetic chemicals, sprayed on plant material then packaged like candy, smoked like marijuana. it has no constraints, no
regulations, no guidelines. cush is typically many times more potent than natural marijuana and produces a physical and psychological effects that are uncharacteristic of natural marijuana use. people who use cush have suffered pa r suffered paralysis, brain damage and even death. one supposed brand name for synthetic marijuana. law enforcement agencies have identified hundreds of names given to synthetic marijuana. this committee hearing is important for that reason. we need to get the facts. . whatever we generate in legislation should be confined by the facts. we don't want to expand the fish net, if you will, on individuals who happen to be either attracted, addicted or using this drug, and i hope that we will have enough facts in our record to be able to craft a sufficient federal response to this very important issue. mr. chairman, i'm going to ask
unanimous consent the rest of my statement be included in the record. >> without objection. >> i'm going to ask my questions for the witnesses be submitted for answers to come. i ask anonymous consent. my questions submitted to the witnesses that i may present. >> without objection, so ordered. >> and i'm going to pose a question to dr. nichols. i'm concerned about making sure that we are not so broad that we, in fact, do not appropriately respond to synthetic drugs. and so, and let me, by the way, a moment of personal privilege, my daughter graduated with honors from university of north carolina chapel hill, so you're elevated even higher in my eyesight. why is it important, dr. nichols, that the scientific experts in the fields that study synthetic compounds play a role in determining the appropriate response in terms of drug scheduling and other control measures? and might i ask you describe any
promising research that you're aware of on these issues. >> well, the legislation that i've seen in general basically tries to expand the landscape around known compounds and i've done patent legislation and i work with patents and in patents, pharmaceutical companies will have a genous of compounds. so the possibility for harm is sort of unimaginable. so i think we really need expert medicinal chemists and neuropharmacologists to look at the come pounds proposed for scheduling to really determine, and i've seen some of the proposed bills and they basically try to think of everything possible. one of the comments i made was we're talking about hallucinogens, analogs, fentanyl analogs and synthetic compounds. there's no legislation that would take care of a new chemotype. so we have another cathinone.
some chinese chemist finds something we've never sewn before. based on if everything you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. we need an out of the box thinking in terms of ways to approach this that would cut off the possibility of new chemo types of drugs we haven't seen yet and be more careful in circumscribing the things we have using expertise. there's lots of expertise in the american chemical society, in pharmacology societies that could sit down and look at these and say, these are problems, these need some evidence. rather than casting a wide net that's going to create all kinds of problems. many of the compounds may not be harmful to human health. it's kind of an unfocused shotgun approach i think could be much more focused on real problems with some expertise and i just haven't seen that brought to bear. >> let me thank you. i know the other witnesses will have some instructive information that i will draw from your answers.
but dr. nichols, i think you have laid a landscape or parameters that we should seriously look at. we just had a successful set of legislative initiatives on opioid and i think it was based on a lot of thought, a lot of hearings, opioid and heroin. we passed a series of about 18 bills last week that all of us can found satisfaction in the way we approached it. the judiciary bill did not have mandatory minimums. it was treatment of the vast problem. i want to make sure we'ring a rattly and appropriately addressing this problem and will take to heart, if you will, and advisement, your very astute analysis dealing with the vastness of compounds and subsets we should address to make sure were narrowly address the poisonous synthetic drugs and not have a wide reach. thank you so much. mr. chairman, i yield back. i appreciate your time.
>> thank you, miss jackson lee. i now recognize mr. bishop. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you for the witnesses for being here today. i want to thank mr. eckhart and veronica for being here today. for your testimony. like many of the folks in this room, i'm a parent. i have a 16-year-old son and a 14 and a 10-year-old. and this issue causes me great agony. and for you, my heart goes out to you and your wife. i pray for you and your family for what you've been through. i thank you for your courage to be here. it's incredible what you're doing. thank you for raising awareness. i intend to take your message back to my district, certainly to my family. i wonder if you might be able to share with us what you believe in your experience so far is the most effective method of raising
awareness. what's the most efficient method in curtailing the use of synthetic drugs? >> may i speak? >> can she address? >> yes, please. >> thank you so much for having us here. obviously it's very difficult for devin and i, not only do we travel overnight from california, but we're so passionate about this subject, and laws take time to change. they obviously need to change now, but getting that public service announcements, which is now happening with the opioeiai and heroin epidemic, getting public service announcements out there, recognizing that these products are available in candy form, in liquid form, in the vapes, in the e-cigarettes, in the marijuana type leaf. getting that message out there to parents. they simply do not know. i said i wish i could carry -- i have a book this big that is full of stories, full of stories from people who have lost their
children either to death or to mental illness from using. people simply don't know. it needs to be taught in the classrooms. teachers need to know. physicians need to know. nurses need to know. counselors need to know. the public needs to know at large. and this is something that could be done immediately. awareness, education, prevention. and i'd like to also mention that if you are 13, 14, 15, 17 years old, under 18 years old and you become addicted to spice and it is very addictive, where do they go? there is not a place for an addicted child to get treatment. and this is a very serious issue needed to be discussed at another time. thank you. >> thank you very much, veronica. i appreciate your being here and appreciate your testimony. agent milione and officer smith, i wonder if you might be able to address this issue. i as a former prosecutor have had interaction with law enforcement over the years.
k2 was an issue not too long ago. hit the stores. it was in the local gas stations. at the party stores. i got a call from one of my local police chiefs, chief narsh from the police department who told me that he was trying to get it off the shelves but he couldn't do it because there was no legal authority to do that. how do we get ahead of this? how do we -- what do we do to give you the tools in law enforcement to prepare for the next generation? and clearly these folks that are selling them in the stores are selling them with knowledge that they're being used in an illicit way. they're not just bath salts or ince incens incense. it's being used by our youth in way that's intended for some sort of high.
how do we get ahead of this? what can we do as congress to help and give you the tools you need. >> thank you very much for the question. as i mentioned before we've identified hundreds not based on near theory but based on overdose -- the most effective way to give immediate relief to state and local partners and federal partners is get them into schedule 1. that would solve a couple problems. it would give us the ability to get them out of those stores. to be able to stop it at the border. but more importantly we'd be able to increase the cost of those that are trafficking in it, not using it. trafficking in it in the united states but then overseas because they operate with impunitimpuni. that would be one fix. another possible solution would have to do with that labeling. in the same way with analog steroids, there's a bill that you have to have appropriate labeling. if there's false labeling, there may be some kind of a false labeling penalty that would increase the civil penalty and
tamp down the incentive for these retail stores, convenience stores to have this in their -- in their places of business. so those are a couple ideas, but we'd be more than happy to work on any -- providing any technical assistance in that area. >> representative, as veronica spoke to it, psa and getting word out on the street and i believe mr. buck or mr. gohmert spoke to the fact kids are buying this legally in stores and, again, thinking it's an illegal substance, they're not going to the hardcore street drugs we used to see them do, cocaine, heroin, marijuana. they're not taking this out of the fact of ramifications that come from using something they buy at their convenience store for $5.
>> thank you very much. anything i can personally do, i know others are the same way, i'd love to be a part of that solution. i yield back. >> thank you. recognize miss chu from california for five minutes. >> mr. milione, the controlled sun stances act provides for two mechanicians for controlling drugs and other substances. congress can do it legislatively or the d.e.a. in collaboration with the department of health and human services can do it administratively. when the d.e.a. takes an action to temporarily schedule a substance, retailers begin selling new versions of their products with new unregulated compounds in them. in your opinion, how effective is the current legislative framework? >> certainly we appreciate all the tools that congress has given us. the challenge in this space is that it's a reactive process and it's a lengthty process. resource-intensive process. the same medicinal chemists,
pharmacologists who do this analysis for d.e.a. and hhs, 75 different federal prosecutors under the analog act as experts so it's a very reactive process. scheduling temporarily takes on average three to four months. after harm has already occurred. once we initiate that process, it's generally two to three years by the time hhs can do their analysis. so when you pile on top the dozens that we're getting every year, on top of the hundreds we've already identified, it's like pushing that proverbial massive rock up a hill. >> and what should congress do to expedite the classification scheduling of these synthetic drug analogs? >> i'd be willing to work with your staff to talk specifics, provide some chemical advice, anything that could either streamline that process or give us some breathing room and get the ones that we've already identified on to schedule 1. >> yes, i'd love to work with you on that. >> absolutely. >> mr. milione, in order to skirt federal and state laws,
many synthetic drugs are being labeled as not intended for human consumption or legal in certain states. how are these claims effecting law enforcement's ability to prosecute synthetic drug-related crimes? what could be done about this? >> that's the evil brilliance of some of the traffickerses. they're going to look at the law, the analog act and going to create something and put that on the substance so that creates a defense for them so you have a battle of the experts when you prosecute them under the analog act. so one way that you could potentially fix that, i mentioned a moment ago is if you had some kind of a labeling requirement so they're appropriately labeled. it would defeat that defense but that's kind of the realm in the technical assistance and advice or interaction we could have to maybe talk about those in greater detail. >> mr. milione, a majority of these synthetic drugs have been manufactured and imported from china. what has the d.e.a. been doing to combat the manufacturing of
these chemical compounds? >> that's one of the biggest challenges, right, the manufacturers operate with impunity because a majority of the substances aren't in schedule 1. firefig fortunately we have a strong and growing relationship with the republic of china. october of 2015, they scheduled 116 of these new psychoactive substances, these synthetics and as a result of our cooperation with them, they provided leads with us to identify domestically where gatekeepers and not cartel heads but cartel distributors would be in the united states so we could work under our laws here in the united states to bring them to justice. >> and how are these precursor chemicals being imported into the united states? >> they're just being -- they're being labeled as research chemicals, they're being, like any other contraband, mislabeled then sent in and unfortunately the majority of them -- we don't have the authority to stop them. we can't help our partners at the cbp, customs and border patrol, because the majority of
them are not scheduled. >> and officer smith, in the past several years, there's been an enormous increase in the variety and number of synthetic drugs available. the effects of the drugs can vary so graeatly. as a first responder, what additional safety and health precautions do police officers have to take when approaching an individual suspected to be under the influence of synthetic drugs? >> ma'am, from the law enforcement first responder standpoint in general would be law enforcement, fire, e.m.s., dealing with individuals on synthetic drugs. i spoke to it earlier, it's similar to the effects of pcp on an individual. you know, they're very unpredictable to deal with. they become very -- they can be very passive at one moment and with a flick of a light switch, per se, they are extremely agitated, they are very violent. and we're getting officers and firefighters and e.m.s.
responders hurt from the synthetic drugs. >> thank you. i yield back. >> thank you. and the chair recognizes mr. labrador from idaho for five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i will yield back one or two minutes to mr. bishop who has a few more questions. >> thank you, congressman labrador. i wonder if -- we got 1,000 questions here in a very small amount of time. i wonder if i might ask mr. milione, the d.e.a.'s project synergy found millions of dollars, sales of these synthetics were being funneled back to the middle east for what i assume to be terrorism purposes or funding terrorism. can you comment on that and share more about that? >> sure. project synergy, it was a multiyear, multiagency investigation and you're right, about millions and millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds were going back to the middle east.
yemen, syria, lebanon. we continue to explore that. we work with our partners at the fbi and our special operations division which is a multiagency coordination center. but that operation resulted in the seizure of almost 7,000 kilograms of cathinones, cannabinoids and hundreds of prosecutions. we are still exploring that and i wouldn't be able to speak to some of the threads of those investigations on the money. >> one quick follow-up. we know that this is not necessarily manufactured here, that many cases it comes from china, overseas somewhere. how is trafficking handled when it gets to the united states? who does it? cartels? >> well, on both the synthetic cannabinoid, cathinone side, the fentanyl analogs, much more potent than heroin synthetic, there are several ways.
the primary way is manufacture in china, sent into mexico. mexican cartels now are exploiting and capitalizing on the opioid epidemic in the country. they're taking the synthetic fentanyl, mixing it with heroin and other substances and sending it across the border. southwest border, couriers taking it to lawrence, massachusetts, really any part of the country is being touched. but you can also get it directly from china. you can order it over the internet. you an get this substance sent to you delivered directly to your home. you can mix it with other compounds then distribute it in the drooiunited states. it's a terrible, treacherous world that they're creating. >> thank you very much for your testimony. i yield back to congressman labrador. >> thank you, mr. buishop. thank you all for being here tod today. i applause the chairman for holding this. mr. eckhart, i want to express to you, i have five children and i and even imagine what you're going through and i want to express my deepest condolences to you, your wife and to your entire family.
for your tragic loss. i'm sure it's difficult to be here and testifying, but i greatly admire the courage that you have to testify here and to help us to more fully understand the true impact of these drugs on our society. mr. milione, i want to follow up on some of the questions that were being asked. to your knowledge, is d.e.a. working with customs and border protection to interdict the shipments? >> we are working with them as closely as we can, and with the tools that we have. absolutely. >> do you have cooperative agreements in place? >> i don't know as far as the agreements, but i'm sure there are mous that exist, but there's a healthy working relationship with cbp. >> and you think that working relationship is functioning? >> i believe so in this context, yes. >> can you estimate the number of prosecutions of synthetic drug manufacturers and distributors that have occurred in the united states? >> i'm sorry. >> can you estimate the number of prosecutions of synthetic drug manufacturers and
distributors that have occurred in the united states? >> be very hard for me to come up with a hard number. i'd be happy to take that back and get that to you. >> okay. mr. smith, how has your department had to shift its drug enforcement policies in order to combat the influx of synthetic drugs? >> the combatting of synthetic drugs is typical enforcement of any other law. the fact that we're running into the problem, the same as mr. milion, and dr. nichols testified to is the ever-changing chemical makeup of these synthetic drugs for prosecution. the d.e.a. and dr. nichols. just them tweaking one chemical atom of that synthetic drug changes the enforcement aspects on law enforcement's side, you have a drug that is scheduled,
they change the atom, it's a new chemical, therefore it can't be prosecuted. >> mr. eckhart, is there anything you've not been able to tell us that we haven't asked you that you'd like to say? >> how much time do you have? one of the things that occurs to me as this conversation goes on, i'd say at what price tag. at what price tag are changes being made or become delayed? from a parents' perspective, from the general public's perspective, we would feel like and the many, many hundreds of thousands of people that we communicated with would feel like if something looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, let's call it a duck. we're down at the molecular atom structure and because they change one molecule, it skirts our laws and it's available. how many young people have to lose their lives to death or
permanent disability? what's the impact on our community and our society as a result of that? and at what price tag are we preserving the ability to research these or two tao talk them or study trends and statistics before we actually do thing? let's do something. if it's not the right thing, we can always change it down the road as we learn more, but i think parents and the general public out there need to be informed about this. we had no idea. we were not parents with our heads in the sand. we talked to our children about drugs and the perils of what they face as youth growing up in today's world. we didn't have a clue what was going on. the more we learn, the more terrifying it gets to be a parent in today's world. we need help from our government. >> thank you. i yield back. >> thank the gentleman. chair recognizes the chair of the full committee, mr. goodlatte from virginia. >> thank you, mr. chairman.
i apologize for not being able to be with you for the entire hearing. i did appreciate, in particular, your testimony, mr. eckhart, and this brochure. i haven't, in my experience here in the congress, seen a few other people who've basically dedicated their lives to trying to make their son or daughter's life meaningful and i know that's exactly what you're trying to do in dealing with a horrific loss like you are. so i very much commend you for that. i don't know how much your foundation's research has given you about this, and it may have been asked already, but some of these products like k2 and spice and chronic that i see on the bottom of the brochure here, they look like regular commercial products and that increases, i'm sure, the opinion that people think that, hey, this must be legitimate, it's for sale here in this store.
what do you know about those companies? are they legitimate companies that make other products? or are they just totally illegal operations that have this stuff mysteriously appear in various stores for people to buy? >> yeah, to the best of our understanding, there's no legitimate use for the chemicals and the businesses that are proliferating these products out there in the marketplace are not selling legitimate -- >> if you were to sue them, they would just disappear in thin air. >> we tried to find -- the case with our son, we tried to discover who was the manufacturer and were unable to get that even though we had the packet, itself. so there's a deep web and it's not easy to go and identify. these are not products that are typically being made in some manufacturing plant with the name of the company out front.
>> do you think they're made in the u.s. or made outside and shipped in? >> our understanding is both. both. >> and how much docooperation d you get from law enforcement, from the d.e.a. and others in trying to do that research up that chain to find out who made it and where they made it? >> from our perspective, the law enforcement and the people around us were very supportive. >> but they weren't able to help you -- >> but we weren't able -- >> -- go up the chan and find out who actually made that product that was in that bag. >> right. >> mr. milione, you testified about how potent fentanyl is even if it's just absorbed through the skin. what harm could this substance do if dispersed over a crowd of people? >> could kill them. i mean, it would depress -- i'm not a scientist, obviously, but we fortunately have much smarter people than myself on our staff that are scientists and it will depress your respiration and it could cause death.
so it's -- as was talked about a very minuscule amount can cause death, so one of the challenges obviously for the unsuspecting user is that they could be taking fentanyl and not realize that it's fentanyl and overdose but then for my brothers and sisters in law enforcement, the first responders and within the d.e.a., when we go in on warrants, it's a very, very difficult situation. every time you encounter heroin now, you have to assume it's fentanyl because if you inhale it, becomes airborne, you get it on your skin, you could have that kind of a reaction. so that's something that law enforcement all over the country is -- and e.m.s., firefighters, everyone is concerned with that. >> and that's added -- it's cut -- heroin's cut with that and some other things are cut with that in order to increase the addictive nature of it? is that -- >> increase its potency, so it -- >> it develops a reputation, people go back to it because, hey, that was really -- >> that's kind of the tragic part of it, right, word gets out
that there's a very strong -- and traffickers will do that. they'll spike something very hot so when it goes out, unfortunately, you'll have overdose deaths. word will travel and that particular product is very, very potent so there will be a desire for that potent -- deskir for that product. it's mixed with heroin, mixed with other substances. it really can be mixed with anything just to kind of expand its commercial viability. >> but adding that to some other product, as dangerous as the other product might be like heroin, adding that to it is almost tantamount to knowing you're going do be committing a certain amount of murders as that's distribute ed amongst th populous. >> that's -- >> unavoidable. significant quantity of this there the hands of the population is going to result in a certain number of deaths. >> that's correct. >> you got to know that going in, right? >> yes. we've had success with death investigations post-overdose. >> how difficult is it to
prosecute the manufacturers of those synthetic drugs? >> when you are speaking earlier, here's the biggest challenge. the biggest challenge is it's reactive. our success with any of the biggest cartels, the most violent insulated groups has been with a proactive infiltration to get them indicted, convicted, arrest them in the united states or extradite them from another country. the problem is in a reactive case, the harm has already occurred so now you're trying to rebuild that. it's challenging especially when the substances aren't necessarily schedule 1 substances. >> thank you. my time's expired. thank you, mr. chairman. >> this concludes today's hearing. thanks to all of our distinguished witnesses for attending. without objection, all members will have five legislative days to submit additional written questions for the witnesses or additional materials for the record. the hearing is adjourned.
c-span washington journal live every day with news and policy issues that impact you. coming up this morning, kentucky republican congressman thomas massey will be on to talk about the future of the libertarian movement and the impact on campaign 2016 now that rand paul is out of the presidential race. and then michigan senator gary peters will join us to discuss economic issues, including the financial situation in his state that led to the flint water crisis and dilapidated schools and other spotlights. and we'll highlight washington monthly where steven rose writes that his by-gone days of american greatness evoked by trump and sanders are largely based on myth. be sure to watch the c-span washington journal coming up at 7:00 this morning. join the discussion.
here is a headline from real clear politics and senate's bill letting 9/11 victims sue saudi government. james arcin writes for clear politics. they unanimously passed legislation to allow those that were victims of the terrorist attacks to sue saudi arabia. the bill called the sponsors against justice for terrorism act would allow any victims of a terror attack to sue foreign governments that directly help or fund or facilitate those actions. though not tailored specifically toward saudi arabia, it would allow 9/11 victims to sue the nation, the home country of 15 airplane hijackers that day. over allegations it may have been involved in the attacks. the white house opposes the legislation. that is the article. here is the reaction today from the state department. >> can i ask a question on saudi arabia? >> sure. >> so the justice against
sponsors of terrorism act passed the senate, as you probably heard. >> right. >> and will go to the house and most certainly pass there and may get two-thirds support so that would it override a veto possibly. how much concern -- i know the white house has expressed concern about the legal precedence and risk this could entail for americans overseas but how much in this building, particularly how this affects relations with saudi arabia? >> let me just say, first, we continue to have concerns with the bill. >> so the changes haven't -- >> they have not -- they have not assuaged our concerns about the broader issue here with respect to national immunity. so we still have -- as i said, we still have concerns about the potential unintended consequences that are represented in this bill and as my colleague at the white house
said we're going to continue to work with members of congress to -- to do the best we can to have those concerns addressed. so we'll continue to express those. and we welcome opportunities to engage with the congress in that discussion as the bill continues to go forward. and there are steps to be had yet. as for the relationship with saudi arabia, it goes without saying that our relationship is very close. and we have benefited from saudi arabia's leadership and constructive efforts with respect specifically to what is going on in syria. they are a member of the iisg and were represented there in vienna and it was the saudis, as you might recall, who hosted the meeting in read in december that led to the coalescing of the opposition. so they have been a key member from the very beginning. they are also a key partner in
it the fight against terrorism in the region at large and i see -- i see nothing that will prevent us from continuing to bro bro broaden and deepen that relationship which is so vital. not just in the region but around the world. and we've made clear our opposition to this bill. >> is it something that the saudis regularly raise with you when mr. kerry sees them? >> i think i would be hard-pressed to say that this particular issue is raised each and every time there is a conversation with saudi leaders. as you might expect, given the press of issues going on in the region, secretary kerry and lavrov speak very frequently. has this come up in the past, absolutely it has. and the foreign minister made clear his government's opposition to the bill on --
on -- from their perspective. so it has been discussed. as it goes forward, i can't rule out that it won't continue to come up as an agenda conversation in these conversations or by lateral discussions. but is it dominating every discussion or looming over every single issue that the secretary and the foreign minister or the secretary and foreign leaders in saudi arabia talk about? no. no. >> i think you said foreign minister lavrov instead of prime minister. >> thank you. i apologize. correct that for the transcript. >> since you mentioned the conversation between secretary kerry and saudi officials, was this topic -- was this topic a matter of discussion during the last visit of secretary kerry to jeddah? >> i don't know that this particular issue came up, nick.
the discussion in jeddah was really focused more on regional security and stability issues. i'm not aware that this particular issue came up. again, we have made very clear our opposition to the bill. the secretary has testified to that. and as i said in my previous answer, we'll continue to look for opportunities to discuss this with members of congress. the drug enforcement administration lists the threat of synthetic drugs second only to the opioid epidemic at a hearing today a father told the committee about his sons death after using synthetic drugs. >> it is my hope that my testimony will help provide some heart to the head knowledge that you hear so frequently in these conversations. sadly, my wife family and i tragically know all too well the
devastating impact of synthetic drugs. in july of 2014 our 19-year-old son connor was a bright, vibrant young man with a full life ahead of him. he was really what most considered the all-american young boy. he a great job. he was preparing to go back to college. he loved music, surfing, the outdoors. he had lots of friends. and of course, he was deeply loved by his family, his sisters, his mother, and of course me, his father. his first photo was a family shot taken july 5th of 2014. it was the last time we would be together like this as a family. eight days later, connor was with a new friend. he made the seemingly innocent decision --' greed to try something -- he agreed to try something called spice, a synthetic poison and the result was the second photo there. after many days in the hospital with our son in a coma, he was ultimately declared brain dead.
connor died july 16th, 2014. after one smoke of illegal high, purchased at a local store. at the time we were unaware of mps and made the decision to share our story publicly, to be painfully transparent and naked with our tragedy before a watching world. with the simple hopes that perhaps it might change one person's life. it might spare them and their family the horrific circumstances that we were facing and that we now live with each day. since the death of our son, 671 days ago, we've met far too many parents who have also lost their children to synthetic drugs like spice. and through our outreach,
speaking and education efforts over the past 671 days we've communicated with literally hundreds of thousands of people throughout the united states and around the world who have lost loved ones or had their lives tragically destroyed by synthetic drugs. unfortunately what happened to connor is not unique. far too many people have suffered irreparable harm including death as a result of trying or using these poisons. however, what is unique about his story is how it is receive an overwhelming global response to what we shared publicly through social media and news interviews and tv and radio broadcasts around the world. his story cut through the racial and socioeconomic and geographic and economic buries encounters. mps is affecting everyone, everywhere. we are not just one voice. connor is not just one face or some statistic. we represent -- we represent the voice and the face of many others just like us.
we've had the opportunity to reach millions of people on this subject. we've been interviewed by most of the major news and media outlets around the news and globally and leveraged social media. we've had individual unique facebook posts that have reached millions at a time with one reaching over 37 million globally. we've had the opportunity to speak in many settings and worked with and spoke tone senators, legislators, law enforcement officials and many in government. even pet with a lord from the house of lords from the u.k. this past summer as we were there on this subject. we've worked with numerous organizations in an effort to educate and increase awareness on the dangers of synthetic drugs and worked to remove these drugs from streets and stores an communities. but more must be done. the problem is getting worse. hundreds of new compounds have appeared around the world in the last few years. sometimes spreading at the rate of a new drug per week. and we're allowing these to come into our country. illicit drug manufacturers are
constantly working and changing the formula developing new chemical derivatives in order to evade the laws and frankly they are working faster than we are. the issue of mps needs to be addressed and it needs to be done now. when this congressional gathering has ended, you return home. you'll return to your families, your children, those you love and care for. when we return home, we return to a family that has been forever changed. because the death of our beloved son as a result of synthetic drugs. as long as the people around the world pushing these poisons into the communities know there are little or no consequence for their actions an they do know this, we will continue to see the spread of synthetic drugs and the terrible harm they are bringing to our families and youth and communities. you have the power to do something about this. you are in positions of influence and leadership and we're pleading with you to please take action. don't just talk about and debate
the issues. bring about change that will get the substances out of our communities and deal appropriately with those behind the manufacturing and distribution of mpss globally. thank you for your time and consideration on this. >> could you see all of the hearing on synthetic drugs at c-span.org. queen elizabeth the second will speak at the state opening of british parliament, outlining the priorities for the coming year. we'll simulcast the coverage live at 5:30 a.m. on c-span 2. now u.s. capitol police chief matthew verderosa testified about the current and future operations of his force, including threats to the capitol, security for the democrat and republican national conventions and balancing the public's access to their representatives while maintaining a secure
environment. he spoke before the house administration committee chaired by representative candice miller. this is an hour. i now call to order the committee on administration for today's hearing on the u.s. capitol police. and the record will remain open for five legislative days so members might submit any materials to include. quorum is present so we might proceed. we're meeting today to hear from the new u.s. capitol chief of police matt verderosa. and as a committee, we want to congratulate you on your appointment and looking forward to continuing to work with you shoulder to shoulder. so we appreciate you coming. he's going to be talking of course today about his vision, his direction for the capitol police moving forward. some of the specific items we hope to discuss today include the capitol police budget priorities and recent security events and actions taken and the
capitol police initiatives current and future. the capitol police is a law enforcement with a unique mission. charged with protecting and serving the u.s. capitol, the seat of the nation's democracy and this is an institution, the physical symbols of our free society. unfortunately our institution of freedom and democracy also is a target. so there will always be need for security restrictions but a complete ban on access could be extremely detrimental to the institution. the american people need to be able to access and meet with members of congress. since congress created the u.s. capitol police in 1828 they have worked hard to fulfill the dual mission of safety and accessibility and we understand this is no small task. each of us, members and staff and visitors alike have the utmost respect for the men and women that serve our nation's capitol. we are holding today's hearing as part of the committee's responsibility for oversight and review the safety and security of the capitol and its
facilities. our last hearing with the capitol police was in may of 2015 and today committee will hear from the new chief on the progress made and his vision to continue the force and priorities of the capitol police. our committee works with the capitol police on a daily basis to make sure they have the tools and the authority and the support they need to keep our capitol safe and secure for all. the police are responsible for reviewing security protocols necessary to keep the capitol safe and to ensure that the protocols are tested and deployed against any threats that we might face. as with any law enforcement organization, the responsibility for meeting the mission begins and ends at the top. and that responsibility now rests with chief verderosa. the chief understands the security needs of the capitol complex. the chief has served within the capitol police since 1986 and seen first-hand how new threats have only increased over the years. and while there are sensitive aspects about the operations of the capitol police, there are a
number of items that we would like to discuss and receive an update as well. certainly about some of the various incidents that had happened. i know we've had an opportunity, chief, to talk, i think privately with all of the members here, about the shooting incident that occurred at the u.s. capitol visitors center. and by the way, i will just say before you get a chance -- that your -- your staff, your capitol police, that happened by the book. they did such a fantastic job of reacting and responding. you could write a book and that thing was perfect, to that -- to that response. as well, we had all of these protests -- week long protests that happened recently. we might like to hear about when you were processing such large number of arrests, how that all went. lessons learned perhaps for that. also about your leadership team. your strategic plan and goals and objectives, training,
monitoring threats across the campus as well. we've talked a little bit about garage security. i don't know if you want to touch on that today. that is always an issue. something that we all met about again recently and i know you've met with many members about that and as well as our sergeant at arms, is very, very involved in that as well. so i will also say, before i ask my ranking member to make a comment, i think since the gyrocopter incident, we have all seen, as members of congress here, an increased amount of communication from the u.s. capitol police on various incidents. in fact, we probably get almost more information than we need sometimes. but more is better. and so i'm certainly very appreciative of that. i don't think any member wants to be in a position where we're watching something unfold on the capitol lawn on fox news or cnn or whatever you are watching. so that, i think, is very much appreciated as well.
and so this committee, of course, chief, is here to assist the capitol police because we all share a common goal and that is protecting u.s. capitol campus and everyone who works here and all of the visitors that come here each and every year. we thank the chief for his appearance here. and we look forward to his testimony. and i recognize my ranking member mr. brady for his opening statement. >> thank you, madam chair for holding this very important hearing this morning. good to see you chief. thank you for being here. >> good morning, sir. >> i have a longer statement for the record but i want to comment briefly for how visible he's been with the congressional community. your predecessor was here three and a half years and i think i met him one time toward the end of his tenure. you've been here three months and i met with you four times. i appreciate that. as a son of a police officer, i know how hard your job could be and the rank and file members need a change in the top and my staff advise me we are working well together. so thank you for that. and thank you for traveling to philadelphia last month and for
taking the time to meet with the mayor jim kenny and myself to talk about congressional security at the convention. i would like to mention for this to benefit my republican colleagues that the security professionals in philadelphia were impressed with the chief and the sergeant at arms and i thank him for coming up to philadelphia. again you showed respect to all of our members and we appreciate you. so that will speak very well for you in your convention in cleveland also. thank you for your service and look forward to hearing your statement. >> thank you, sir. >> thank the gentlemen. i think both of thoseventions will go -- those conventions will go just absolutely smooth. any other member wish to make an opening statement or comment. let me formally introduce the chief. on march 21st, 2016, chief was sworn in as the new chief of the capitol police. the chief is the ninth chief and had been serving as the assistant chief of police since april of 2015. the chief has served in numerous roles since 1986 including
positions in the uniformed and patrol division, the internal affairs division, the training and services bureau, in addition he commanded the u.s. capitol police review task force before becoming assistant chief. and as chief of the u.s. capitol police, the chief is responsible for commanding a force of sworn and civilian personnel who are dedicated to providing comprehensive law enforcement and security and protective operation services to the u.s. congress. members and staff and millions of annual visitors as well and to this surrounding complex also. so again, we certainly thank you for joining us, chief. we have your written testimony. you can -- the floor is yours. take as much time as you need. we appreciate you coming. >> thank you, ma'am. i certainly appreciate the opportunity to be here. good morning, members. and thank you for the opportunity to appear before the committee to discuss the united states capitol police. i'm joined here today by the department chief administrative officer mr. richard braddock, deputy chief richard rudd and
fred rodgers and deputy chief chad thomas who is staffing the airwaves right now watching operations while i'm here. also with me is our general counsel gretchen demore and representatives from the department office of in spector general. also i would like to welcome other members of my executive management team and also attending today and i appreciate their -- their presence here today. our fop chairman jim konsos of the labor committee and gus, who is the vice chairman. also with us are members of the teamsters, our other union who we work with on a daily basis. i would like to thank the community for their steadfast support of the united states capitol police. the regular discussions with you and our staff about the mission are greatly valued and i'm very grateful for the committee's engagement and feedback so we could continuously meet the
needs and expectations of congress. secondly, would you like to recognize the men and women of the united states capitol police. every day they publicly demonstrate how american freedoms that we all hold dear are carried out in our nation's capitol. they work tirelessly to ensure that the congress could conduct legislative responsibilities without disruption, all the while exhibiting the utmost respect for the constitution and the protection of first amendment liberties. i'm thoroughly impressed with their performance, which is both seen and unseen by the public and the community. and i'm thankful for their desire to constantly rise to the occasion and handle whatever comes our way. i've been in federal law enforcement for over 30 years, serving in a number of roles and now as chief of the u.s. capitol police, the responsibility to you, to the members of congress, the capitol police board, the congressional staff, the visitors and my employees to do everything possible to protect
and safeguard everyone, every day, in a unique and open environment. the threats and risks we face today are dynamic and changing and sophisticated. and they create a great he need for focus on national security. coordinating with the capitol police board and consulting with commitys of jurisdiction, including this committee on house administration, we have developed a four-year strategy that provides for growth of the department to fulfill three new mission sets. in an effort to further enhance the successful long-term protection of the capitol complex. the mission sets are the result of a constant threat analysis, including intelligence gathered by partners globally and nationally. and these initiatives consist of the following, enhanced garage security, as we've talked about on several occasions. pre-screeners and additional overwatch personnel at various building access points and also the use -- further use of the enhanced portal screeners that we've employed for the first
time during the state of the union. members and stab staff will see -- staff will see several enhancements as a result of the three initiatives. there is a visible screening at house garage entry points and a more significant officer presence outside of capitol complex doors and access points, including additional canine teams and subject interdiction officers. visitors entering the house chamber will undergo additional screening through enhanced portal scanners, further keeping potential threats away from the house of representatives and the floor of the house. there is much discussion regarding resources for the department and the long-term viability of these initiatives as the chief of police and a steward of the taxpayer's dollars, it is my fiduciary responsibility to look at every responsibility within existing assets to accomplish our mission. before i seek additional assets and resources. the congress has been very generous to the department and i
will do my due diligence to first look within and not request something that -- unless it is truly needed. one of the tough decisions i've had to make to meet the new mission sets within our current resources is to find staffing to -- to accomplish some of the additional screening requirements within our existing budget. to do this, and after discussing my concept with chairman konsos of the fop labor committee, i've determined that it is most appropriate to modify some of our off-post time rotations in the uniform services bureau from the current standard of a one to four rotation to one to five. during shifts when the majority of officers are working, monday through friday, day and evenings. this will make additional man power avaid available and -- available and will result in only approximately ten minutes left off post time or stand-by time for employees.
while these enhancements come -- with these enhancements come important opportunities. the modification of off-post rotations will result in more specialty job opportunities for employees throughout the department. specifically in the area of canine and subject interdiction. these officers will provide police coverage in zones outside access points to the complex. i should note that this change is not also the long standing contractual obligations with the cba and the off post time is well above the minimum required by the collective bargaining agreement for the purposes of conducting and service training, allowing for appropriate relief time for officers who routinely are focused on working the security equipment. with some additional resources, they will be necessary in the outyears to complete the initiatives and to provide stationary posts. i'm confident in the department's ability to meet the new mission sets and we'll continue to look for ways to
off-set any cost and potential reapportionment of how we assign personnel. in the months ahead, we have a number of high-profile events that will require much attention and man power resources. later this month, the annual memorial day rehearsal and concert will take place followed by the fourth of july demonstration on the capitol. and focusing on the nominating conventions in cleveland, ohio and pennsylvania, where we are protecting members of congress. in addition, we're officially planning the 58th inaugural of the president of the united states, which takes place on january 20th, 2017. while this national special security event takes place on capitol grounds every four years, it is prudent and necessary to begin preparations early enough to ensure absolute success in the execution of this significant mission set. as a former commander of the
departments' policy and planning operations, i fully understand the importance of setting meaningful performance metrics focused on outcomes rather than outputs. we are currently in the process of building the foundation to better collect and analyze and share the data that we collect departmentwide with the ultimate goal of having information that allows my staff to better -- to be better informed and in making management and security decisions. the department is actively engaged in addressing and resolving recommendations made by the office of the inspector general. since 2006, the u.s. cp inspector general has made 310 recommendations to the department. we've closed 255 by implementing the recommendations. we're act fifly working -- actively working on closing the remaining 55 recommendations and annually i'll propose key areas for the director to examine so she and her team could assist me
in making this a better department. excuse me n. closing i want to share some of my priorities for the near term. i've always believed that the department's mission is simple yet extremely critical. i want to get back to the basics and not overcomplicate policing. i want to leverage existing resources in the law enforcement community to become smarter and more efficient especially in the area of intelligence gathering. i plan to place a better emphasis on training to help the workforce remain focused and to fight complacency and to ensure that supervisors are prepared to manage. these are the basic areas i will focus on during the next year. finally i think it is important to discuss and mention the march 28th, 2016 shooting incident in the u.s. capitol visitor's center. from all practical perspectives, i want to say that the screening process works. and we had an -- we -- on that day we had an individual intent on wreaking havoc.
he was detected to be carrying a weapon during the process we employ each day to screen people visiting the capitol complex. we were prepared, we responded appropriately, and it should serve as a lesson to others who may want to come to the hill to do harm. our highly-trained officers will stop those individuals who wish to do us harm. i'm extremely proud of the officers involved in this incident and i'm grateful to our partner agencies for their assistance, both throughout the event and following the incident. again, thank you for the opportunity to testify here today about the united states capitol police. i'm truly humbled to be here. and i would be pleased to answer any questions you have. >> thank you very much, chief. i would ask -- we mentioned about better communication from the u.s. capitol police to all of the members of congress. but if you could perhaps expand on that a bit, of how your agency communicates and how you work with your -- your brother
agencies here locally. for instance, when we had the navy yard incident and just communicating with d.c. police or other agencies as well, how was that all working? >> certainly. we have a very good relationship with our partner agencies here in d.c. particularly the metropolitan police, the united states park police, the united states secret service, federal protective service and supreme court police. we have communications with our partner agencies. we have a direct switch line to the secret service, the metropolitan police and the park police. we are embedded with several fbi task forces. the jttf, and we have an ongoing relationship with the supreme court and the federal protective service. and they actually command our --
man our command center on a daily basis so we have direct communications. we also work with other agencies on an ad hoc basis. we have radio communications with most of the local agencies and we're working to solidify further the ability to communicate directly from a command perspective. we meet regularly with the metropolitan police and their law enforcement partners meeting every monday. i attend various meetings as do my subordinate officials, in a multitude of levels, on a multitude of issues regarding the ongoing law enforcement issues, threats and events that are occurring throughout the -- the district of columbia. we have lessons learned from all of the major events, including the navy yard, the second navy yard incident and the difference between the first and second in terms of communication was
extreme. incident command as a matter of fact, deputy chief rodgers was incident commander for -- command post representative for the united states capitol police during that second ongoing navy yard issue. so we have -- we all employ incident command system processes for leadership and command, area command and we communicate on a regular and daily basis during events and during the off times. off-shoot of some of the gyrocopter incident was communication with the community. we have improved our messaging matrix and i apologize if we give you too much. would you rather have you have too much than too little. it is obviously important that you know what is going on for situational awareness and for the effect that incidents have on the legislative process. we take great strides to make sure that you have the information that you need both
on the house side and the senate side. we are looking -- we shortly will have a joint congressional messaging process that is being worked on jointly with all of the stakeholders and i look forward to that. so that will cut out some of the -- if there is delay, it will certainly cut out redundancy and be more efficient. >> if i could ask one other question, chief and i appreciate the answer to the first one. we talk about investment with the u.s. capitol police and certainly there is no second for investing in people and all kinds of technology that can assist you, resourcing you properly. but i'll tell you, the canines are unbelievable. what a critical component. i mean, those dogs can just find things that no computer can, it seems like, right. >> absolutely. >> how do you deal with the canines? do you need more of them? is that an area, how do you see that unfolding in the future. >> we are expanding our canine
capability by six dogs in the near term. part of that is the traditional eod-type sweeps and we have some other new techniques that we use which i would be happy to discuss offline which will contribute to be a force multiplier for us in terms of what we do. absolutely, the dogs are invaluable. they could do many things that humans can't. they detect things at long distances. they could detect things that we obviously would not know were there. so we -- we do literally hundreds of thousands of sweeps every year with the dogs. and again, they are in valuable to us. we have an opening in our -- and we get tremendous competition for the openings in the canine unit. it is truly incredible. >> right. thank you very much. i recognize our ranking member mr. brady. >> thank you, madam chair. as you do know, i represent
philadelphia and thank you for your visit. that is where the democratic national convention will take place but i would like you to discuss your preparations from the capitol police perspective, in philadelphia and also in cleveland. what are your preparations there? >> absolutely. our convention planning is well underway. we've been working -- our dignitary protection division has the lead. they employ -- the secret service is the lead planner for both events. both in philadelphia and in cleveland. as part of the nsse broad approach and committee approach, we've planned these -- we planned these events within that framework. so we have employed the nsse framework for any number of major events, including previous conventions, state of the union addresses and the inaugurals. and it is really a sound system that we cover all bases.
our dignitary protection division has made multiple visits to both venues, both cities. they have procured the requisite lodging and we are in the process of designing security plan for the specific venues, both the actual convention venues and any ancillary venues for events occurring outside of the main venue. i appreciate the opportunity to travel to philadelphia and meet with you and i appreciate the introduction that you gave us to the philadelphia officials. it helped me tremendously in my ability to communicate the message to my troops and to make sure that we're doing all of the things that we need to do. we are going to be traveling to -- either myself or representatives along with the house sergeant at arms and other stakeholders to cleveland in the very near featuret -- future, j as we did in the philadelphia trip. we'll continue to work with law enforcement partners, both state
and local and federal to make sure the security plan for the member protection -- and that is the reason we're there, to make sure that the members of congress have a safe event and we can protect the interests of our statutory protectees. we will continue to regularly brief the capitol police board and my staff is available to brief the committee at your request on the status of the planning. >> thank you, chief. also, it goes without saying the people you brought here, you are having a pretty good relationship with the other unions, the teamsters and the police unions. but also, because they are knocking down my door and have been for the last three years every other month coming in and trying to complain about what we can do to be helpful. that is not happening so i know you are doing a good job. but how often do you meet with your reps? >> i meet with chairman konzos and his team, it is about every two weeks. but in between his staff and my
staff, our work on issues, dominic stirrely of former house administration is my chief of staff and works directly with jim on a number of issues. i meet on a number of issues, whether it is contract negotiations or just daily grievance-type issues. the philosophy for me, and i've known the chairman and gus for many years, particularly jim for almost 30 years. and we have a mutual respect for each other's positions. i've asked jim to be here today and i appreciate his attendance. since i was apointed, we reinstituted the regular meetings. i plan on continuing the regular meetings. we both believe that there is significant common ground that we could address in issues and try to resolve issues at the lowest level before they become grievances and we work on things of mutual interest. of course we'll probably
disagree on some issues but i think we have the kind of relationship that we can work through those issues in anamicable way and try -- and try to do what is best for the congress. >> thank you, chief and thank the men for the job you do every single day and it is a pleasure to be working with you. madam, chair, i yield back the balance of my time. >> mr. harper is recognized. >> thank you, madam chair. and chief thank you for being here. i know this is a very sobering weekend with memorial service that was sunday and how that -- i know that means so much to you and your attendance we greatly appreciate. last week the house passed some important bills and one of which was the fund the bulletproof vest program to help local law enforcement with that life-saving bulletproof vest to help on the funding issues there. and i know you and i had the opportunity to meet and i want to thank you for coming to my office and for having the opportunity.
and as i told you in that meeting, if i had an issue, or a problem, i'm going to come to you. we'll discuss it. i won't run to the press to talk about it. you and i will have a chance to do that and i want to reiterate that here. but what can we do as a committee and as individual members of congress to help you do your job? and i'm not talking about the funding issues. >> sure. >> what else can we do? >> i thank you for meeting with me, both privately and for your comments today, sir. i appreciate the committees support on initiatives, on whether it is garage security or portal scanners or any of the earth issues that come up. when -- it is interesting, because it is such a large institution. and i have a very large workforce. sometimes it takes a little while for information to filter down. and we're working on the communication piece.
but it is also incumbent on us to assist the sergeant at arms on both sides and the leadership to communicate any message of changes that we do. change is not -- does not come easy for people. both within the department and in general. i know that. i have a 24-year-old, it is hard to change anything without an argument or a reason -- i have to explain any reasoning. and try to do that, because it is the right thing to do. i want to be able to communicate changes and that is one of the reasons that i do meet with the union leadership. i want to have that open communication. but i also want to have that -- with the community. and i intend to continue to visit member offices and -- and try to advise you all -- everybody. and both on and off the committee on what we're doing and why we do things. because i think if you have the information, it helps -- it helps sell the message and it
helps us change sort of the mindset, whether we'll institute new operations or procedures. so i appreciate the opportunity to be able to come to the members and be able to explain why we do things. and i think it is important to maintain that communication. >> chief, firearm qualification and certifications are very important and know we're in an interim here with the -- the range being out of place. tell me what you are doing in the interim and how new facility will be an improvement over the old. >> appreciate the question, sir. we are -- in our current cycle, even though we are off-site, in the interim while our range is down and we're preparing for the opening -- the reopening of the new range, i want to thank the congress and the architect for providing the funds and the -- the space and ability to have a range that is so close to where
we work. what is t does for -- it does for us is minimize the impact of having our sworn workforce off the grounds in a stat thaus is either not work -- status that is not working or in training. it is travel time or it really helps us to have the range here. we had the old range in the rayburn for over 50 years. and we got tremendous amount of use out of the range. and i couldn't even quantify how much time and effort we save by having the range locally. and our goal is to have the new range open up soon, by labor day and use it for at least another 50 years. it will certainly outlast me. but so far in this -- in this cycle, we have qualified 86% of the police department. now we've reaped some benefit, even though there is a little bit of cost associated with sending them out to cheltenham, maryland, where the entry level
academy is. we have maximized the use of that time by continuing the training day. so we send officers out for the entire day rather than having them travel back to the hill. so we -- we leverage the ability to use some more of our training time during that extra day. i look forward to having the range back here on the hill. though, as you could see, we probably will be able to finish our current cycle by june 1st, hopefully. if not sometime in june and then we move on to the second. we have semiannual qualifications so we shoot twice a year in the fiscal year and we are a little bit off the cycle. however, with the indulgence of the stake holders, we have a great plan to get the range up and running and it will provide us with the ability to change how we train. it is a dynamic range. and it is really helpful for us to tactically use a range. >> thank you, chief, and i yield
back. >> chair recognized ms. lofgren. >> thank you very much and welcome to you, chief. it is good to meet you. and i'm hoping that at some point we can have a closed session with the chief because there are some questions that probably wouldn't be smart to ask in a public environment but that we should get the answers to. just two things. i was concerned in discussing this with the prior chief, that although there was communication with other law enforcement agencies, there didn't appear to be a written mutual aid protocol. and so i'm interested in -- not going through it today, but in reviewing that with you in terms of the protocol -- what it is and how it is communicated to our workforce, number one. and number two, i'm wondering if the department has ideas on how the physical layout of the plant might -- the campus might be
adjusted to enhance safety and also to enhance the capacity of your members to do their job. >> certainly the physical security is -- is one of our main issues. we have a very robust physical security -- security services bureau. and they handle all of the physical security aspects, working very closely with the architect of the capitol. the measures that were put in place post 9/11 have really -- we are at the life cycle end of a lot of the life. we're looking at -- at doing life cycle replacement. of course, it is always a very expensive issue but it is certainly something that is very necessary. >> let me interrupt because i don't think i was clear on my question. for example, where is the perimeter? you can't really -- i mean, we
respect the fourth amendment, you have to have a rational for inquiring, but at the perimeter of a facility, you don't. so where are the perimeters set and how -- how should they be set? and how would that make a difference for your troops, in terms of level of security in garages, we have garages that have nothing above them. we have garages that have, you know, an office building above them. >> yes. >> what kind of deployment makes sense in each one? those are the things i was thinking of. >> sure. absolutely. of course, we balance the open campus with the level of security that we provide. and it is very important to maintain. and it is very difficult. you're absolutely right. it is very difficult balance for our officers. we don't have a physical fence. we don't have structures that prevent people from walking across the east front and west
front. we use our human intuitive capability and deploy personnel. obviously within the framework of the infrastructure, whether it is the homestead wall or physical barriers that we install, ballards, barriers that pop up for vehicular threats and those type of things. we have to be obviously very cognizant of the effect that security has on the openness and the ability tor constituents to visit members. >> of course. >> and it is a -- it's a very huge competing interest in the security issue. so we focus our main thrust and concentration on the largest threats and we're always looking for the individual threat, which is one of the greatest threats that we have these days. the individual.
but we have to balance it and accept a modicum of risk in terms of the physical structures that we put in to prevent people from approaching the building. we do work very closely with both this committee and the senate -- committee on rules and administration to work on those issues, whether it is expanding the perimeter, allowing access close into the building or whether it is initiatives to do inspection of things that people bring with them to the grounds. so it's a very tenuous line that we walk. and we -- we take it very -- very hard look at any type of procedure we're going to employ that could come close to -- could be perceived as a violation of the fourth amendment. we certainly don't want to do anything that would be contrary to t to the constitution. so it is a work in progress. we work on it continually.
it is a conversation that i have with the capitol police board on a regular basis and we'll continue to have with the commit of jurisdiction. >> i see my time is skpared. perhaps we could pursue this further. >> absolutely. >> mr. nugent. >> thank you, madam chairman. i appreciate you holding this and chief welcome. >> thank you, sir. >> and i appreciate your time when you came up to visit with me in the office. and what a different approach, i'll just say this. and i'm not blowing smoke, but what a different approach in regards to your approach and the prior chief with inclusion of the union in -- in a weekly or -- whenever it is necessary, a discussion. typically you're going to probably agree on more things than you will disagree, but you will always have disagreements, because that happens in the best of families. but at the end of the day, the rank and file folks out there doing the job every day have
great ideas an i think that -- and i think that you're moving absolutely in the right direction and i think we'll be much safer as members of congress because of that collaboration between the two groups. one of the things -- you know, that still strikes me when we go back and look at past history and we had the chief here discuss that, particularly when we had loss of weapons and things like that, but reading in an article where the person who sent the picture got how many months off without pay and demoted and the person who actually left the weapon unattended in a location that could be accessed by other folks received a suspension, but relatively minor in scope. and i guess i'm -- i'm still a
little miffed at the fact that that supervisor got demoted but then also had a huge -- huge suspension without pay. and i understand it is in litigation so you probably can't talk about it. but would you hope just in the -- but i would hope that in the future, what that person did is actually brought out an issue that needed to be under the light of day. so we all know. and we all take confidence in what goes on within the capitol police. and i'll go along with mr. brady on this. i've not had any negative comments with the union at all. which is -- that is a testament to your leadership. i'll be blubt wint with that. it is a testament to your leadership and i hope that continues. one of the things we talked about was management by walking around. is walking around your organization and listening to the folks that -- you are only as good as the pima associate
yourself with and i would suggest that your leadership team do the same and i'm sure they are under your leadership. one of the things miss lofgren has talked about was security and that is an issue that we grapple with from time to time and you are right we have an open campus but what exactly as we move forward in regards to the underground facilities, i know that we're -- that the equipment is in place. when are we actually going to start doing -- do that screening? >> we'll be doing the security screening with the appropriate communication first. very soon. i can't give you a specific date. i'm working with mr. irving, sergeant at arms and we want to time it right so that we introduce the screening process. i know that people -- we've had some communication meetings with the staff several weeks ago in terms of how we would roll it
out. and i'm working very closely with mr. irving on exactly when we want to do it, strategically, so we cause the least amount of disruption to the business process of the community, about you would expect sometime in the next several weeks we'll do it and special communicate it. i got that message loud and clear. we're going to make sure that we properly communicate and make sure everyone is aware of what we're going to do. i do appreciate your comments about working with the union, sir. i respect the troops. i consider myself first and foremost a police officer. and i'm prepared every time i'm out on the street to take police action. i carry -- i don't have it today. because i'm wearing this blouse. but i carry my radio every day. i monitor the radio. and i take police action when i need to. and i have tremendous respect for the work that we do here. i ask a lot of the troops. they are ambassadors, they still have to enforce the rules and
the law and they deal with ten to 12 million people a year and that is just screening them through the process. there is probably another 10 million who walk through the grounds that we do -- we talk to with we talk to, we interact with. and i'm always amazed at how few complaints that we get from the citizens and the staff about, you know, courtesy or those types of things, you know. they truly are ambassadors. they do hard work there. they're focused on the x-ray machines an the magnetometers and knowing that every time that they have to be 100%, they have to be sharp. so i appreciate members of both unions being here today and i appreciate the relationship i have with the officer officers. i always help to have a positive relationship obviously there are things we'll disagree on and i have to make tough decisions that affect people. but i never fall short of
knowing these are people, they're not numbers, they have families and interests and ambitions. i try to treat others how i like to be treat. eye not making any judgment on any previous chief or anything's. it's just my approach to how i work with my -- my staff. and i have leaders and deputy chiefs and civilian direct rz who are out with the troops. i appreciate that because they're good role models. they're out amongst the troops. again, we make management decision and they're tough decisions and not everyone agrees on the best approach to how we get to that bottom line. but the officers are a great resource, a great example of that is processing the 1300 or so arrests that we had a couple of weeks ago during the democracy spring demonstration period. now, this was nonviolent civil disobedience. it was nonconfrontational for the most part.
and it took a lot of planning and effort and a lot of manpower and it's not me making the arrests. it's the officers that come in early. it's the officers that have to be the arresting officer, and it's the people who do the job that i respect -- i have so much respect for because really i've worked the posts and i've done those jobs, and it's on a sunday sometimes you've got to come in. you have to wake up early and you'd lear rather be doing some else. but hey it's why we get paid the big bucks and they do a terrific job. but we took a new approach on how we handle mass arrests. other agencies in the city have had the ability to cite and release people. traditionally here with the way the rules are set up and the laws, we've had to have full custody arrests for most of the arrestees that we handle. even in mass arrest civil
disobedience situations and it's tremendous in terms of time and effort. these are the same troops during that week that had to go day to day for about ten days and be the same people being brought in early to handle these ars arrests. so we took a concept that i thought could be employed. we borrowed anddapted the metropolitan police's cite and release forms, their policy. we adopted them to ours. we worked with the attorney general for the district of columbia to make sure we were using the appropriate charges. and when the law changed in 2013 it made it easier for us to use this process. so we employed it, and we were able to expedite the process. but the reason i bring this up is it really wasn't me. i had the concept, but the officers are the with ones that took even from the first day we had arrests, it took about eight hours to process 429 people. i mean, it doesn't seem like a lot of time, but when you look
at how -- we would still probably be processing these arrests had we been using the old method, the old mass arrest method. in that short duration of one week, the officers came up with a great idea with a couple of the lieutenants that were running the mission set and expedited the process. so by the end of that week, we processed 300 arrests in three hours, which is just phenomenal. and we had very few issues and we will further refine the process based on the suggestions of the officers. so i agree with you that some of the best ideas come up from the ranks and rise through the ranks. i'm very appreciative of the effort of everybody on the cdu, the civil disturbance unit. switching gears on you for one second and, yes, the case in the paper is in litigation. i would prefer not to talk about it. but the individual was on
administrative leave with pay, it was not without pay for that period of time. just want to set the record straight on that. >> chief thanks for your comments. i appreciate the indulgence of the chair. maybe you ought to talk to your counterpart in the tsa in regards to listening to people that work there and it would be helpful. thank you. >> mr. vargas. >> thank you, madam chair for the opportunity to ask a few questions. first of all, i'd like to thank you once again for meeting with me in my office, letting me know what you're doing and planning to do. that was very helpful. thank you. secondly, you weren't hear earlier but i thanked the capital police. i think you've been doing a really trifk job and i proesh appreciate that. i did want to mention one incident, a colleague of ours fell hard during one of the snowstorms and hurt himself. he was found by another colleague of ours who then quickly got a couple of police officers here, capitol police, to bring him aside and they were very smart to figure out that he had some chest pains and didn't
let him walk away like he wanted to and said, no, we're calling the medics. they did and got the medical response team to come. again, appreciate their very professional work. you know, we probably would have allowed him to walk away and that would have been a very bad idea. so again i think the police did a fantastic job and i want to thank them for that. i do want to ask a little bit about the issue of the open campus. you know, i've been to the boon astaug in germany and they do put a fence around. it's very difficult to access it. we see more and more they have fences and now a double fence over around the front of the white house. obviously, that gives you a lot of protection, but it also prevents people from actually accessing the white house, which at wu at one point they had access to. so hin is a balance there and i think it's important to give people the opportunity to come and visit their members of congress and the senate, but it is also interesting the issue of security, not so much for us but
those people who do come and visit us. >> so anyway, i appreciate that you said you give that a lot of interest, a lot of thought. could you comment a little bit more on that, if you will? >> sure. we do try to leverage technology to the extent that we can. and believe me, again, the force multiplier, technology, the systems, some of the systems i prefer not to talk about in an open forum, but they're there for us to use and we do use them. and we deploy them very effectively. i think azts technology increas and the quality of the technology, i think we'll be able to leverage that. obviously, there's no replacement for having an officer on the beat, on a fixed post or in a patrol area that will focus on the security, particularly close in. you know, we take sort of a layered approach. you want to keep the threat as far away as we can. we push it out and as you get closer to the concentric circumstance circle you want to are have your assets.
we do leverage even the physical security aspects where we have barriers and kiosks. we have post s staffed and we ue the buildings as sort of funnels and we can sort of keep eyes on people and individuals who approach from various direction ptz. but again, we never want to trample on the ability for people to visit. i'm not advocating putti ting u fence or anything like that. i think with our troops and a focus and an approach where we maintain our vigilance in terms of looking at the threat, training our employees in what to look for and being able to make sure that the troops are fresh and they are able to react appropriately, i think with training and staffing that combination along withtributes we've had we've been provided
with to protect the campus, you know, i think the ongoing conversation will continue with the capitol police board and committees to make sure we have all the things we need particularly technologically that will help us and assist us so that we can leverage that without sort of closing the campus off. so i know that it's sort of a work in progress, as the technology changes every day. we want to be able to stay ahead of the curve and we want to keep our finger on the pulse in teerpz of what's available to us to sort of use to leverage as a force multiplier. >> again, thank you very much. and lastly i know my time is about up, i'd like to say this, even though they do monitor the threat, they're very polite and professional, too. and i appreciate that. i know i've commented a couple of people in particular. i appreciate their professionalism. >> thank you. >> thank you. >> thank you, madam chair. >> thank the gentleman. chief, again, we just want to thank you so much for coming today. we all are very desirous and looking forward to working with
you, shoulder to shoulder, not just you but your management team. and all of the rank and file, the union fellow that's are here representing all of the rank and files. just know we appreciate it. every one of us is coming into these offices and these office buildings, the capitol every day. we watch your folks day in and day out doing their job so professionally and bravely and well. and we all have a very high degree of comfort and security about the professionalism of the brave men and women of the u.s. capitol police force. and this committee stands by to assist you, and one thing i would say and i know i've said it to you privately i'll say it publicly as well. don don't sometimes wait for a hearing or wait for us to come forward with something. we really want to know from you if there's a shortfall somewhere that you see as a particularly critical element of something that we better be aware of, we need to help with, that's why we're here. we all work together. >> i sincerely appreciate the asupport and how cooperative the
staff has been with me. if i want to come meet with the members. i really sincerely appreciate the opportunity to be here today. thank you very much. >> thank you very much. without objection, all members will have five legislative days to submit additional written questions for the witness if we have any. we'll forward them, ask the chief to respond as promptly as he can so any answers could be made part of the record. without objection, this hearing is adjourned.
the coming year. we'll simulcast bbc's parliament's coverage live at 5:30 a.m. eastern on our companion network c-span2. our campaign 2016 bus continues to travel throughout the country to recognize winners from this year's student cam competition and recently the bus stopped in massachusetts to visit several winning students from that state. they went to the same school in foxborough where all the students in first through eighth grade attended a ceremony to honor the seventh graders for their honorable mention video titled "gunning for safety." the bus made a stop in ludlow to mention honorable mention winters eighth grader sa doe sed james elliot won for his video. the two were honored in front of their classmates, family members and local elected officials.
a special thanks to our cable partners comcast cable and charter communications for helping to coordinate these visits in the community. and you can view al the winning documentaries at student cam. g cam.org. madam secretary, we proudly give 72 of our delegate votes to the next president of the united states. ♪ supreme court justice sonia sotomayor recently addressed a
crowd of about 3,000 at rutgers university in piscataway, new jersey. she talked about her life as a justice and why the high court needs diversity. she's introduced by the university's president. >> well, that's a long way in from that far side. i guess in this arena you should be running in with a basketball or something like that. but i do want to welcome you all here. i must say that the line coming in here was remarkable, orderly, smiling, longer than anything that i've seen at rutgers that did not involve free food. so i'm glad you're all able to get in. i must say i've never seen those seats in the back filled either. yeah, good. as they say, good on you guys, right? just don't fall. i can just see the tumble effect could be brutal coming down. but i do want to welcome you
here. you know this is rutgers 250th anniversary, and we're delighted to be able to celebrate that. [ applause ] but it is also the 60th anniversary of the eagleton institute for policy. so it's nice to have a 60th and a 250th on the same year. this event is a discussion on civic engagement that's part of a series that is done in honor of lieu gam acheeny. is lou here today? i think he is, isn't he? no, wasn't able to make it st d today. he's been to so many of these. he was a senior fellow of brow steen and commissioner of transportation under brendan bern and was responsible for setting up the new jersey transit system. so he sets an example for this and what we're doing today is trying to continue that
tradition of civic engagement. we also have several governors with us today, governor florio and governor mckrief vi, chief justice of the supreme court debra pour ets and a number of our senators and assemblipersonassembliperson s are here today. thank you for join using us and i hope you'll have a good time today. my job today really is to use our guest, and it really it as an honor for me to do this, welcome our guest here to rutgers. she is as you know supreme court justice sonia sotomayor. and it took a venue like the rac to hold the crowd. we had this event scheduled for another space that only held 750 people. i'm a little embarrassed we don't have the columns and white marble here, but considering the number of people who have an opportunity to see and hear what they has to say, i think we couldn't be in a better place
than the rac. she's the ideal speaker for a discussion like that for civic engagement because that's what she's done her entire life. she's also a perfect speaker for our students here at rutgers. i'll just take a moment to tell you a little bit about her. she was born in the bronx to parents who came from puerto rico. [ applause ] she lost her dad as a grammar school student, but her mom worked six days a week to provide for her and her brother. and she was the first in her family to attend college. i have to point out that of the 8,000 new students who joined rutgers last year, a full quarter of them, 2,500, were the first in their family to attend college. so this concept -- as near as i
can tell, that was perhaps the only questionable decision in her otherwise stellar career. she did make the choice to go south for her college experience to princeton. but we won't hold that against her, i assure you. she graduated assume ma cum laude from that institution down the road there and went to law school at yale where she was the editor of the law journal at yale, began her career as an assistant d.a. in new york, was an associate and then a partner at paufy and har court where she litigated international commercial matters. her judicial experience began with her nomination by president george h.w. bush to the u.s. district court southern division in new york in 1992. in 1998, president bill clinton promoted her to the u.s. court of appeals for the second
circuit. then, as most of you know, when president barack obama was elected and sworn into office, his first nomination to the supreme court was our speaker today, and she took her office in may of 20009. and when president obama nominated justice sotomayor, he said this, and i'm going to quote, her career has given her not only a sweeping overview of the american judicial system but a practical understanding of how the law works in the everyday lives of the american people. and i think that really says it all. she took her seat as associate justice in august of 2009. the first hispanic and the third woman on the supreme court. now, that -- [ applause ] that doesn't do justice to her
bio, but she has a book called "my beloved world" that i'm going to put on the mandatory reading list. i think it was reading that book that motivated ruth mandel to bring her here to sharer her story with us. i think for ruth and some of her sfuds this is a dream come true, to have that intimate conversation in this intimate setting with this intimate small crowd. but i'd like you to join me now in welcoming professor ruth mandel and our honored guest associated justice sonia sotomayor. [ indiscernable audio ]
>> thank you. wow. i was asked earlier today by a student if i still got nervous. i invite that student to come and look at this crowd. and answer the question for me, okay? thank you for coming, all of you. [ applause ] >> i don't think i have to do this introduction. a very, very warm welcome. >> thank you. >> you are getting a sense of how much we appreciate you coming here. it is such an honor, such a joy to welcome you --
it's not on? >> i don't think it is. >> give it to me. >> them told me it would be on. >> hello? experience makes perfect. >> this is power. can you hear me now? how about this? thank you. thank you. i was saying, a warm welcome. pe a we are full of joy and appreciation that you have said yes to come to rutgers university to help us celebrate some important anniversaries, the 250th anniversary of the
university and the 60th of the eagleton institute of politics. what a pleasure. [ applause ] the president mentioned the background of today's event, speaking personally, i will underscore that this is what you dream about when you write a fan letter. or more than you dream about. that fan letter from me was on behalf of the remarkable student body. we are prrif privileged to teac the rutgers, educating about civic engagement and the importance of political participation, about taking responsibility for our representative democracy is at the heart of the eagleton institute of politics mission and at the core of today's special event. the response to this event has been tremendous, to say the least, and therefore our move to
this rather large venue, somewhat larger than eagleton normally invites guests that visit with us, that has made a casual question and answer session impossible. instead, students from the three rutgers campuses in new brunswi brunswick, camden and newark have submitted questions in advance and some of them have been invited to join us on the court. but before we hear from the students, i have the privilege of asking several questions. and i'm going to begin with the fan letter that was written about the book that i read a couple of years ago which had such a tremendous impact on me and so inspiring. i would like you to talk a little bit about the title for that book. it is called "my beloved world." would you tell us how you came
to that title and what it means. >> as those of you who have read my book know, it comes from a poem by a puerto rican author, one who had been displaced from puerto rico for a period of time. and he was talking about the memories that he had of his puerto rico. and my editor called me up because we had been going back and forth on potential titles for about three years, the process of writing my book. and he said, sonia, have you ever read jose --? i said, in college. did you read this poem? i said, sure. he said, go back to it. it's a much longer poem than the excerpt i have in the book, but i finished the poem and i said, the title is "my beloved world." and he said, that's what i thought, too. and when i thought about it, i
actually had some people who didn't like the title. they wanted something like "mommy dearest," you know, "the life and struggles of." and i realized that when i wrote the book i had in me the objectivie tity and impartialit that is a part of my profession. it ace a craft in my profession. you're taught to look at things as objectively as you humanly can. and so as i wrote about my book, i hope you're all away that i was painfully objective in terms of talking about both the challenges of my life and the good times of miy life. because for many of us, don't those go hand in hand? they're really the flip of the same coin.
and what i wanted to do was to let people understand that i knew that both the positive and negative experiences of my life had crafted me. they made me. and they made all of the good that's in me. and my mother would say all of the bad, too. but who i am is an amal gam of those experiences. and for me each one was necessary to creating who i am. so when i finished the book, i realized that i loved my life. when you're in the kind of position i've been thrown into, people always ask you what you would redo. and i tell people not a thing. first of all, it would be disingenuous. how many people get to the supreme court, okay?
but even though i wouldn't necessarily want to change that, there are parts of it that i wish i could have done without. but i really do appreciate that with it, it made me a better person. and so hence the title "my beloved world". >> this will relate a little bit to what you're saying. you've risen as everyone knows who's read the book and who's followed your career from very humble beginnings to one of the nation's most prestigious and visible positions. what have you held on to from your earliest days? >> my gosh, read my book. everything. just about everything. you know, i tell people that i'm the proudest american that you could ever imagine. when i'm asked what i am and who i am, i tell them i'm an american from new york city. but when i talk to people, i also tell them, i have a puerto
rican heart because my culture is deeply ingrained in me. who i am is all of the experiences i have had but also the values that i was taught and it's unfair to attribute it just to being puerto rican. i think every culture instills common values. all of us have love of family, love of community, love of country. but there is something in the music that i heard, in the poetry that he read, in the food i ate, in the dances that my family had that stay ins in the very core of you. that core is so vibrant and so important to me that i don't think it will extinguish the day i do.
how's that? and i bring it with me to just about everything i do. >> when -- >> by the way, i don't think you know -- i'll tell a story. i think it might interest the audience. the day the president called me to tell me that he had selected me to be his nominee to the court, he asked me to make two promises, and one of the two was to stay tied to my community. and my response to him was, mr. president, i don't know how to do anything else but. and i think that that response not only was genuine, it was who i am. and i don't know that he understood, however, that my community was just not my family or even my puerto rican culture. it is much wider than that. it's a world that i care very
deeply about. it's a country that i'm very devoted to. it's issues that are critically important to me, education being at the foremost. so all of that is my sense of community. >> going back a bit to the family but how that -- how the relationship has evolved from the book, it's apparent and from what you're saying, of course, that family is such a key theme and priority in your life. being a supreme court justice is so high profile and being in the presence of a justice can be intimidating, although you make it easy, i must say. >> thank you. >> has being on the court affected how people close to you, including those people in the family, treat you? does the fame especially in such a politically charged climate as we're all living in, does that affect your family and your
relationships with your family? >> well, the day i got a call from my brother telling me he was in a gym in california and guess what, the president walked in and he went up to a secret service agent and said, you know what? i'm justice sotomayor's brother, and he got through secret service to shake the president's hand, he he called me and said, okay, this is worth something. okay? there are good things, the person whose last name was the same as mine and told the police she was my cousin -- i have no idea who this person was -- and there are moments it affects family and very dear friends. i earlier told stories of moments with friends where we've really had to talk through the
relationship and the situation, more the situation. you know, people torture my family and friends to get to me so i'll say yes to doing something. and at the beginning it was very hard on many of my friends because they felt some loyalty to whoever was asking them to do the thing and at the same time they understood that my life had gotten very complicated. but i found just as i describe in the book that really talking it out makes a huge, huge difference. and each of us has and them have found a protocol for dealing with it that takes the pressure away from them and from me. and so, yes, that does affect you. i earlier told the students who were at lunch that the first christmas that i went to our family christmas party -- we do it around new year's because everybody has nuclear families
elsewhere. my own is with my brother in syracuse. so i come back down to the city for new year's. and we have an outing at my cousin miriam's home. you'll know who miriam is. she's my my imi in the book. and i walked in and i sat down at the couch and there was silen silence. deafening silence in a puerto rican party. nobody be shuts up and all you hear is people talking above each other and screams from the other room and laughter and lots of it. and i looked around, and i said, what's wrong with you guys? i'm still sonia. and then the room burst out in laughter. and everybody started talking ov each other and asking me questions and we started going through and catching up.
but sure it changes the relationships. it has to but so there are events i miss because i can't leave the court, events that the family knows i would have been at, including my 90-year-old aunt's birthday. that's something i would have never missed except they decided to have it on a day i was away. my point is that, sure, it changes it, but we work hard at keeping it the same as much as we can. but it's a work in progress. none of this happens on its own. and it's them working with me and so if the event is really critical to them, they'voe lear to call early so we can get it on my schedule. and they've even accommodated funerals so i can come in from washington and put it off a day so i could travel. so it's a sort of gif and take
that we're doing to maintain the relationship and close to the same as possible. >> as close as possible. >> as close as fopossible. >> in the memoir, you touch on the role of pol tikzs in the judicial appointment process and the need to make yourself and your skills oneself and one's skills known to those in power in order to be considered for a judgeship. what was the experience of making your skills known blowing your own horn like for you? and particularly for some of our students here, what advice would you give to young people about how and when to be your own cheerleader? >> hmm. i really believe in letting your actions speak for you. and the one thing that you i know i did was to ensure at every stage of my career that i was doing the very best job i humanly could.
so i studied and studied and studied both in high school and at princeton and at yale. and i never, never cut corners with my education. my book talks to all of you about how i relearned how to write in college because i thought that my writing was inadequate. >> sound please. [ indiscernable audio ] >> hello? so i went back and reread grammar books, found a professor who helped me with every paper, to reteach myself and to relearn english grammar and how to apply it to actual writing. but i've done that in my professional pursuits.
my first year at every job i have really not been distracted by anything else. i've put my head down and i studied as hard as i could. and once i felt i was in control of the process i was in, then i would go out and do other things and try to become a leader in those things that interested me. one of the hardest things that do today, i look at the resume of students, and you're often involved in so many different things, i worry that you're missing the point. you should get involved in a couple of things that are really important to you and then excel at them. become a leader. do something noteworthy, something that people will talk about in their letters of recommendation about you. it can't just be, you know, she's a member of x, y, z and a,
b, c and d or she does this and that. it's really important for a letter to talk about what your passions are. and to show how good you've been. and that's how i dealt with my professional career. it was putting my head down and being the best i could, the best lawyer i could be in the d.a.'s office. getting a reputation for being tough but fair. that was important it to me. but most important to me was being passionate about the work i did. don't do any work that you're not passionate about. first of all, i you won't be good at it. if the work doesn't interest you, if it doesn't satisfy something in you, then you're not going to be the best at it. but if you go into work situation recognizing that you can learn things from any situation that you're in and
work to milk that learning experience to its yut utmost, then you'll grow passionate about your work because except for illegal activity all other work has value. you know, i tell law students especially those who are so passionate about public interests, it's not a sin to make money. all right? it's not. and commensurate with that, it's not a sin to work for a corporation or to work for a big law firm or to make money. it is a sin if you do those things without giving back to your community. if you do those things without volunteer i volunteeri volunteering, without using some of those resources, both the company you work for and your
own, in helping public interest activities. then there's something wrong. but all work has some inherent value. all work can be intellectually stimulating. in all work you do, you can help people. you know, on april 15th, all of you are very happy with your tax accountants, okay? and you think, as i do sometimes to myself, don't they get bored with those numbers? but they don't because this is fascinating to them. and for the really good accountants who are working closely with you and really trying to help you, not just save money but to be honest and to be upstanding in how you report your income, you know that you value that. so you can value the taxicab driver who takes you to where you need to go. you can value the bus driver who takes you to work every day.
you can value the person who cleans your room in a hotel, just as you can value anybody that provides a service for you. and so don't be afraid of thinking of public interest more broadly. think of it as an opportunity to figure out what job satisfies your intellectual interests, makes use of your natural tal t talents, and where you can use those things to benefit sometimes yourself but to benefit others. and i think if you do that you end up with a passionate life. and that is actually the most important thing that i think you should be thinking about as you study law. don't eliminate choices simply because others think, oh, my god, you're going to be one of those horrible corporate
lawyers. there's nothing horrible about it. anything you do with honor can be put to good use, okay? >> we're having a problem with this. >> hello? i got it now. i'll give it back. now that you're on the supreme court, do you view your role as a judge differently from when you served on the lower courts? and in what ways? how does that vary? >> i don't know how we're going to do this, but they'll figure it out. all right, you see a lot of dressed up people around the room, men and women in suits. they've got these little things in their ear. most of them aren't u.s.
marshamarshal s and campus police and some of the local police. and their job is to protect me, not from you but from me, okay? i like doing something that they don't like a whole lot because they think it puts me in danger. i don't so i do it. but i do it because you're going to make me a promise, which is you won't get up when i walk around among you. okay? i don't like sitting still. if you read my book, you'll know that i was called a hot pepper by my mother whi was a child because i never sat still. i was always up and down. and i haven't stopped since. i also think if i move closer to you that you'll feel like we're having a real conversation. so just don't get up because if you do, they jump into action. and it gets a little messy.
i'm going to try to make it somewhat up there, but i'm not that young anymore. so we'll try, okay? all right. is there a difference? it's harder, much, much harder, to be a supreme court justice. when i was on the lower courts, the district and the trial courts, i always thought to myself when i got to the supreme court, how much different could it be? a lot. and it starts with that i had not realized or appreciated when i was on the district and circuit courts how much comfort i took in making decisions from the fact that there was a court above me that could fix my worst
m mistakes. that really gives you an out, okay? you struggle with a question. you do the best job you can. it's much easier to let go when you know you're not the final word. well, now i'm part of the final word. and although congress can fix some of the things that the supreme court does wrong, it can't fix others. on constitutional questions, we're the last word. on statutory questions, it's not easy for congress to act and change laws or change things that many of them, many congresspeople, may think is wrong. and so making a decision is much, much harder. and in many ways, i feel it more a burden because i remember one
thing, in every single case that comes before the supreme court, we're announcing a winner. we're telling one side they were right. i'm getting past the nuances. sometimes with we say they're right on one thing and wrong on another. but generally, one side is going to come away feeling vindicated by our decision. and the flip of that is someone lost. and someone feels like something important has been taken away from them. either a right they thought they had or a recognition of a loss that was deeply felt by them. and that makes this job that much harder.
and so that part of the judging is very different. the critical difference, however, is so the layperson can understand it, we're the court of last resort. and what do we take cases? we take cases when the lower courts have disagreed about the answer to a legal question. it's what we typically call a circuit split. there are 13 circuits in the united states that cover the 50 states, plus territories. the circuits are not of equal size. some of them are bigger in number of states. some are smaller in number of states but bigger in terms of the number of people. but if you start from the proposition that we have to have either a circuit split or a split among the circuits and a state court, the highest state
court, or a split among courts generally before we take a case, what does that tell you? we take only the hard cases. and we take the kisses where reasonable people have disagreed. because you have to start from the assumption that if courts below that are always made up of judges who are trying their best and they can't find the answer, then the answer for us is not easy. you know, there's a lot, a lot of complaint at times i hear because we don't agree more and i look at people and say, why do you expect a unanimity of opinion when the reason the case came to us is because other
people couldn't agree? and so that is a fundmental difference from the othj other the other courts. in the other courts you get a certain number of case that's are right out on that margin, but the number is much smaller than the everyday work the as one of my colleagues once said about a case, the minute it comes to the supreme court, it's a supreme court case. as soon as we say, yes, we're going to hear a case, everybody revs up to tell us every side of the case. so it's harder because every case is on the margin. ruth? >> hi. is this working? great. i'm going to ask one last question, and then we're going to turn to some of the students. new jersey is a very do not let
her go >> why? >> not to nosebleed territory. new jersey is a very racially -- >> oh, no. telling me no is the worst thing in the world, you know? go ahead. go ahead of. start again, ruth. >> as i was saying, new jersey is a very racially and ethnically diverse state, one of the top three most diverse states in the united states with respect to racial, ethnic and immigrant populations. we know that makes a difference here in new jersey. it certainly defines and shapes the culture in so many ways. does diversity on the court make a difference? how and why? this is my last question. >> that's your last question. okay. then i get students. we represent the country.
we make decisions that affect every single person in the country. and sometimes in some of our decisions the world. we also supervise generally the practice of law in the country, and we're influencing the work of lawyers in every single profession there is in the country. and so to be able to represent all of those people, it's helpful with whhelp helpful when the justices have present among themselves as much and as varied an experience base as the country has. and it's not because the sitting justices can't learn about how other people are feeling or what
they're experiencing because we do. but there is a personal ability to explain an argument that you know if your colleagues haven't had that your voice can let them see it in a different way. i give a very simple, simple example, okay? number of years ago in a case called stafford, there was a 13-year-old girl who was in a no drug school. and it was reported through three layers of hearsay to her principal that she had taken an aspirin. that she was called in to either the principal's office or the vice principal or whomever was in charge and strip-searched to see if she had aspirins. she then came to court and sued because it was a state school
for an unreasonable search and seizure. the court was hearing the argument and i wasn't there so i'm talking about something i read about, okay? some of my now colleagues were asking her lawyers questions, the tenor of which basically was what's the difference between this and strip-searching to go to the gym and work out? just ginsberg was reported to have said after the argument that she feared that some of her male colleagues did not understand how it felt to be a 13-year-old girl and how important the sense of body privacy and sensitive that is at
that time. now, did it make a difference in the decision making? my colleagues are lawyers and they're judges and they based it on their view of what the constitution required and didn't. but i know one thing. there wasn't a majority dissenting or concurring opinion that insulted a little girl by telling her that this was no different than changing in a locker room. that itself is worthwhile. that you have people on the court who can tell each other what you're saying, how you're saying it is going to be hurtful. how or what you believe about others may not have a foundation. those conversations exist. will they influence the outcome?
not likely. but they do influence the manner in which we approach the issue. and that has, to me, importance. so that's why i think diverse tiff all kind -- i'm not talking about ethnic or religious alone but diversity in professional backgrounds, how people have grown up, what they've done with their lives is critically important and valuable to the experience of judging. >> it was nice to see you. >> you see. you still can. hello? hello, you guys. >> some of our students are now more than ready for their turn to ask some questions. we're going to begin with angela
villanueva who has a question for you. angelo is a sophomore in the school of arts and sciences, majoring in math. >> if my nose starts to bleed, i'll tell you you were right. >> angelo is here. >> all right. you plan and you plan. >> angelo is down here. >> i misheard it. go ahead. >> that's fine. [ speaking spanish ] we've heard the phrase that words cannot describe certain feelings but i hope you don't mind me asking, in what words can you describe your feelings during the moment of being sworn in as a supreme court justice? and how did you feel when you became one of the most powerful and influential latinas here in this country?
>> it remains for me an absolutely surreal experience. people often ask me, what does it feel like to be a part of history? and i look at them quizzically because it's not just that words can't explain it. it's that it doesn't feel real. and i fear that if i thought i lived that way every day that i would stop doing the things that i thought were right to do. so there is a piece of me that sort of pushes it out of my mind because it's not important to me everyday living. other than i don't walk around in shorts anymore because i'm afraid of the pictures people will take. when i'm in a restaurant and i see people's cell phone popping
up from under the table to take a picture as i have food going into my mounouth, i stop. you know, that sort of thing does affect affect you. but by and large, you can't live thinking about that. you have to live doing what you think is the right thing to do at the time. and so i don't think about it too often. what was it like when i first went to be sworn in? first of all, you have to understand that i was sitting in john marshal's chair. it is behind a protected glass enclosure at the supreme court. they only bring it out for swearing ins. a few days before i had signed the john harland, first john
harland bible. every justice since has signed it. when they gave me the book and i was reading the names, it really was like an out of body experience. how do you describe feeling that? and so here i am, and across from me of what would be either the justice's box for guests, which in a regular courtroom might be the jury box, okay, in that box were sitting -- was sitting the president of the united states. and as i got sworn in, all i could think about was, my god, thank you for this gift. because that's all -- [ applause ]
and when i turned around to look at my family and friends and there were tears in everyone's eyes, i knew that a moment had passed that i never imagined. i never dreamed of because from a kid from the south bronx who had no lawyers in her family, i didn't know a supreme court existed. so you can't droem about what you don't know about. and so -- [ applause ] -- i had lived and reach something far far beyond any dreams i ever had. and so that sense of being blessed was very real to me that day. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> thank you. our next questions come from -- >> hello. wow.
you guys are really dedicated. thank you. you are really dedicated. thank you. [ cheers & applause ] thank you. thank you. all right. i'm sorry. i'm in trouble. >> are you ready? >> go ahead. >> our next questions come from two students who have complimentary questions and i would ask them to come forward. one is majoring in political science. crystal is a major, a junior major in ie kolg at the cam den college of arts and signs. domeyola. >> thank you for being here today. my question is, as the first latino on the supreme court, do you feel pressured to set a standard? >> and crystal, if you ask yours
azarel. >> my question is, what advice can you give to young la tinas interested in pursuing leadersh leadership? >> i don't think i've ever lived my life feeling pressure from others. pressure is always inside of me. in that way anything i've ever wanted to achieve or do, i've done because it was a sight i set for myself. you know, you can't live your life for your parents. my mother wanted me to be a journalist. because she always wanted to write and travel the world. and so if i had lived her expectations, i can tell all of the journalists down there, i would have disappointed her.
[ laughter ] no. what i do is asset a standard for myself. i do what i think is important to do and that which i think makes a contribution. i said something earlier today that ruth told me she really liked, so i'll repeat it here. okay? every night before i go to sleep i ask myself two questions. the first one is, what did i learn new today. and the second is, how did i help or extend an act of kindness to someone. and if i can't answer each question and i don't fall asleep, i go on the internet. [ laughter ] i read an article or i think about a friend who i've been out of touch with or a friend who is
in need and just get in contact with them by e-mail so they know i'm thinking about them. with respect to the second part of that question, it's in keeping with the first, which is to be a leader, you have to lead a life by example. you have to show people the way to be better people. and that means not just being kind to the people in your life, even when they're not kind to you. but it means by doing things that help others. you define the agenda. you look at what needs to be done in the world and what you think your talents can help you bring to the world. and that will create the leader.
because i have found that if you do good things, people will come and help you do them. good luck to the two of you, by the way. >> thank you. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> boy, it's hot up here. i'm really sorry. i see all of the fans and i understand why it's really hot. >> i have another -- >> sorry about that, guys. i'm going to go that way, okay? [ cheers & applause ] now, i'm going to drive my security really crazy. go ahead, sara, take the lead. all right. this is much easier to do. >> this is my first experience with the goddess. >> now, just -- >> i hear you but i don't see you. >> hello, guys. thank you.
thank you. okay. who is next? >> our next pair of students with complimentary questions, sahar and connie capone. would you come to the microphone? sahar is a sophomore and political science major in the school of arts and sciences and connie is a junior in the school of arts and sciences. her major is political science and journalism and media studies and she is minoring in french lang wauag language. sahar would you begin? >> good afternoon. my question is how does one balance their own personal opinions on a case but at the same time try to remain objective with the law and legal
precedence? is there a balance between the two or are they distinguishably different? >> well, let me start with a realization that you have to have as a judge. what are laws? laws are the society's definition of how it will balance the competing interest of people. so the first example that i give everyone is a law that affects every single person in this room when they go outside. you go to the corner, you stop at the red light. why? there's a law that tells you if you don't, you're going to get a ticket. all right? so why do we have that law and what is it doing? it's taking a bit of every
person's time, putting it into a pool and saying, you can't get to where you want to go as fast as you would like. you can't push penal out of the way. you can't injury them to reach your goal. everybody stops at the red light, gives us time, so that society and most of its people can reach their goals safely. so if you think of most laws, that's what laws are doing. they're trying to balance the competing needs of people in the society. if i make a different choice and impose it as a judge, i'm
rebalancing something that's much, much more complicated than my individual understanding. and i'm doing a greater injustice to the society that depends on the rule of law to help us believe rightly that it's a fair society. that it's a society not governed by the whim of one individual judge, but by a system of justice that asks its judges to respect that their view of what might be fair could be very unfair. and if your belief in the process of law the way i do, and that i believe that over time if laws are not good laws, people will change them.
i know laws have changed in response to court opinions. look at what happened to desegregation. a court segregated the society and a court unsegregated the society. took too long. took way too long. but we can and bad laws can be changed. they can be changed by you. and so for me the tension is not the one that you set for. i don't feel it in a tension the same way. >> thank you. [ applause ] >> connie. >> good afternoon. my question is how does your decision-making process work? do you rely on your own ethics, do you consider the views of the american public or is it something in between? >> you're going to be disappointed. i don't do any of that.
[ laughter ] i read the briefs the parties give me, i read the prior supreme court cases that inform the issue, i read the decisions that the lower courts have issued addressing the question. as i already told you, they're jeanly split. so i'm getting two sides of the story there. we have briefs from friends of the court. i read those. and after i've read all of them, i look at the issue and i deconstruct it. i try to break down its elements as a legal question and i put it together in the framework that i see the law as having created. and so it is a very, in some ways, academic process because i'm not relying on my ethicsr
on my own personal views. i'm trying to decipher from the body of law that informs the question i'm addressing. what are the fundamental principles that that body of law is dictating. what are the values that it's setting forth? what are the approaches to the rights and remedies that people are seeking that the law has created. and so that's how i arrive at my answer. i know that sounds boring, doesn't it? >> thank you. [ applause ] >> the next question, i'm afraid it's going to be the last one. i apologize to the student we couldn't get to. michael gugen hiem, an associate major in political science with a minor in modern hebrew. michael.
>> hello. >> hi, how are you? >> i'm fine. thank you. >> that wasn't my question by the way. >> i doubt that. i don't think ruth would have let you up there. >> she wouldn't have. obviously there's a lot of political intrigue in the supreme court, a lot of powerful people are interested in the decisions that you come to and the effects that they have on public policy and commerce. so my question is, what if any effect does that political interest have on the court's decision-making process and what steps do you take to maybe isolate yourself from that political interest or is it just something that you and the other justices get used to over time? >> you know, you don't get on the court unless you're a concerned citizen. every single justice has had a career in which they've devoted their lives, in some form or
another, to the public good. even when they've been in private practice they have been involved in activities that do public service. we are, by nature, citizen lawyers. you don't work as hard as we work, reach where we've reached unless we've shown that to the powers that be. we get selected because we're the very best at some aspect of the work that we've done. and that work often includes public service. so it means that there isn't one of us who is unaware of political life. we're aware of it. we read the newspapers, we listen to the news. some of us are political junkies, others are not. but become an informed citizen doesn't get translated into now i'm going to vote the way the
public wants me to. the gift the founding fathers gave us is they gave us a lifetime job so that we wouldn't feel pressure to do a decision based on public opinion from fear that somehow we will be driven from our work. and so we're not thinking about public opinion in terms of reaching the answer that we believe the law compels. every year, if you read our most sensitive decisions, you will see us recognizing the impact those decisions might have on people. in every sensitive opinion the court is very aware when one of its decisions is going to be particularly difficult for some people in the society. it's recognized in our writing. but we do take pride on the fact
that we are voting according to what we think the constitution or the laws require. that means that we can be aware of what the effect will be. we can even acknowledge it. but that's a different thing from letting it determine the outcome of a decision. [ applause ] now, would the students please not leave? i'm coming down now. i would like to take a picture with the students who are here because they took the time to come up with a creative question. and they deserve a picture. and maybe as i'm walking down the next student can ask me the question so i get through more of those than not. and my security detail will talk to me later about being late. [ laughter ] >> i know that all of you will
join me in a rousing thanks of appreciation -- [ cheers & applause ] -- and in -- [ applause ] >> come on. come around. come on, guys. >> as you can imagine, and i'm sure some of you are feeling, we have a few more students, a few more colleagues and friends who have questions. so we're just going to have to get her back. we hope that you'll do that. and in the meantime, many years
of strength and health as you serve all of us from that incredibly important position. we're very grateful to have you there. [ cheers & applause ] >> all right, ruth. i came down. after i broke my ankle during the confirmation hearings, i am very cautious about moving. that's why you see them helping me. i'm trying to avoid a second accident. okay? >> down here sitting? we're done. >> okay. bye-bye, everybody. thank you. [ applause ]
queen elizabeth ii will speak at the state opening of british parliament delivering a speech written by the government that outlines the priorities for the coming year. we'llcy mule cast live coverage live at 5:30 a.m. eastern on c-span 2. this sunday night on q&a, vanity fair columnist talks about his new book "old age, a beginners guide on living with parkenson's disease". >> parkinson's is a brain disease. but what i really meant obviously was thinking, sit going to affect my thinking. and thinking is how i earn a living. so that became pretty important.
and i asked this neurologist what's going to happen. and he says -- he was trying to tell me it wasn't such a big deal. he said, you may lose your edge, as if that was just nothing, and i thought gee, my edge is how i earn a living. it's why i have my friends, maybe why i have my wife. >> sunday night at 8:00 eastern and pacific on c-span's q&a. representatives from the va and advocacy groups talked about mental health and suicide prevention program to assist veterans and their family members and the barriers that kbis to receiving treatment. the house committee hearing was led by its chair, representative jeff miller.
it's two and a half hours. committee will come to order. thank you for being with the committee for today's overnight hearing entitled come bathing the crisis, evaluating efforts to prevent veteran suicide. as the hearing title suggests, we're here to discuss the ongoing veteran suicide crisis that according to the latest data available, found 22 veterans a day dying at their own hands. i'm disappointed that the v acti a when nouz able to release updated suicide statistics at this time for the hearing. i understand that the center for disease control finally provided national data to va in the middle of march. considering the critical interest in updating veteran
suicide data, i can't emphasize enough the need for the va to pursue analysis with a sense of urgency. it is my fer vant hope, as a result of the investments we feel maid in va mental health care. i'm hope that witnesses today could provide more recent -- and to shed some light on whether the efforts dedicated to this crisis are indeed making any impact. the rates in suicides have risen significantly in the past 15 years for almost every single demographic, except for
veterans. i think that is due in large part to the hard work that va health care providers do every day, to extend helping hands to those most in need. but that is not to imply that the current rate is in any way acceptable. i continue to be concerned that again, according to the latest data from va that is admittedly dated, the number of veterans dying by suicide have not fallen, despite significant increases in budget, staff and programming. it's not enough for the veteran suicide rates to remain stable. our work will not be over until rates are eliminated. there are many reasons someone
may choose to take their own life and there are many opportunities for someone to step in. v action should be glad that the veteran suicide rates have not riz, along with the swren population. but there's clearly a disconnect between the services and support that va offers and the veterans that most need our help. care. particularly for someone that is contemplating suicide is not one size fits all. and while suicide undoubtedly is a mental health issues, it is also much more than that. eliminating suicide altogether will take a comprehensive approach to ensure that those most at risk have not only the care they need, but also a job, a purpose and a system of support in place to help carry them through their struggles.
therefore, va must adopt a suicide prevention strategy that recognizes a need for wrap-around services that treats patients as individuals, and embraces complementary and alternative approaches to care where appropriate. furthermore, va needs to better integrate a family and veteran perspective that incorporates the lessons learned from those on the front lines of the fight against suicide and can offer a message of hope to those who are still struggling today. last year, the clay hunt suicide prevention for american veterans or s.a.v.e. act was signed into law. clay hunt returned from the battle from afghanistan but in 2011 lost his personal battle from the demons he brought home with him from those conflicts.
the law included a number of providers that i believe will help connect the veterans with both the va and their communities that will provide valuable information about what programs are working for veterans in crisis, and assist va in recruiting high quality mental health -- fully implementing the clay hunt s.a.v.e. act should be va's highest priority. i look forward to discussion the department's progress to date. in clay's memory, in the memory of the countless other veterans who have lost their lives to suicide, we have to do better. with that, i yield to the ranking member ms. brown for an opening statement she may have. >> thank you, mr. chairman for calling this hearing today.
strong oversight of the suicide prevention program remains a priority of this committee. we are all aware of the often cited statistics of 22 veterans a day committing suicide. we also know that va reports in 2014 that there is a decreased rate of suicide among users of the veterans health care system with mental health condition much the question becomes how can we ensure ready access to safe quality mentality health service of veterans in need of care. i hope the va witnesses here today will be able to update us on those numbers as much of the country was not included in previous estimates. my subject that concerns me relate to the new my va 12 break through priorities. i understand that addressing the suicide problem is not one of those. increased access to health care and proven comprehension and
pension exams, continuing to reduce homelessness and transform the supply chains are all on the list, but specifically reducing suicide is not included. given that suicide nationally is considered by some to be a public health problem, i believe va should include suicide prevention as number one my va priorities. i look forward to the testimony on this and where suicide prevention fits into the 12 priorities. i still believe that suicide prevention should be one priorities of their own, top priority. mr. chairman, this hearing will also examine and implement the clay hunt suicide prevention for american veterans act passed in the early days of 114 congress.
this law focused the nation of this terrible epidemic affecting veterans. this law requires that the secretary of veterans affairs and the secretary of defense to arrange for an outside evaluation of their mental health care and suicide prevention. it also requires any service member being discharged to have their care reviewed for any evidence of post traumatic stress disorder, tray ma brain injury or military sexual trauma. we've been at war for over 14 years. there are many veterans out there who do not engage the va care system for purposes of mental health treatment. veterans from all areas. today the discussion should include how va is going to reach out to these veterans. and i definitely want to say that one of the major problems -- and i thank the va for having the conference on
suicide prevention that i was able to attend. but one of the points that was pointed out that many of the veterans, even those we have 22, only three of them are involved in the system. and many of them are vietnam veterans who when they returned home wasn't received properly. so we need to figure out how we're going to reach out to these veterans and include them in the system. with that, mr. chairman, i yield back the balance of my time. >> with us is dr. jackie massfuchi, joy elam, thomas berger were the executive director of the veterans health council for the vietnam veterans of america, and kim ruoko, the chief external relations officer for suicide prevention and post prevention for the tragedy
assistance program for survivors. we're also joined by va's assistant under deputy of secretary of health who is accompanied by dr. harold cuddler and dr. katelynn thompson. thank you all for being here today to testify before our committee. there, you are recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman miller. thank you for the opportunity to share our views on this crate call issue. in 2014 -- this campaign centers around the principal that timely access to mental health care is critical.
the signing of the clay hunt save act into law was an important first step. we thank richard and suz. for inspiring us all to do the right thing, congress for passing the legislation and the va for their kmpment to fully implement the law. we're pleased to be included in the process. we're committed to working with the va and our partners. personally i've been working on this issue for about eight years and never in that time have i seen a movement around this issue so strong or a collective will so unified than in the last year. the conversations are moving to action. and it's our responsibility to make sure that this continues. so today i'd like to focus on four specific areas critical to progress. access to care, inner disciplinary approach to care, supporting those most at risk and the importance of research. and iva's annual member survey,
over 80% of they continue to f emphasize the role of family aends friends with over 75% report having a loved one suggest they seek help and as a result getting that help. three of four of the members are using the va. this year we saw over 75% of those using va mental health services report, little to no schedule challenges, un10% from last year. the same number were also satisfied with that care. but with more help seekers comes more demand. it's critical to ensure that the va is properly resourced to provide this high quality care. efforts are under way with the administration to bolster the va workforce, recruiting medical students and improving curriculum. but that's not enough. beyond the challenge of a shortage is the difficult task
of hiring and retaining talent in the va. the hiring process is confusing and lengthy. it might be made easier. the va needs to fully understand why staff are leaving, they need to know how best to attract employment. noncompetitive salaries and low moral. we all play a role in workforce moral at the va. we often for get to praise the dedicated staff who support va's mission. our members are shared stories of the great work and dedication of the staff relying how these individuals safed their lives or care for them in their hardest moments. we all must do our part to celebrate what makes the va good while also focusing on how to make it better. finally we need to ensure that high quality care exists outside
va. just under 40% of the veteran population actually seeks care at the va which means the current community clinical workforce needs to be equipped to support the veterans and their families and this is not the case. it's not even common practice to ask a military history. this has got to change. but beyond asking about military histories, the community care doctors need to know how best to provide treatment once they have the answer and the va and academic partners are best to lead this effort. it's not just about mental health care. mental health is a major aspect to suicide prevings, it's not the only aspect. there are social factors that impact this as well.
for the va suicide prevent office to take a health approach. we ask congress to ensure that the suicide prevention office is fully resourced so it can be certain to carry out its critical mission. we've also focused on veterans with bad paper. this is a community that's been identified high risk for suicide and homelessness. we can do something about this. iava urges passage of the fairness for veterans act as part of the solution but we also know we need to come up with a comprehensive solution with congress, dod and va. and yet with all of this we simply don't know enough yet. and this is where the research piece comes in. we know that suicide impacts seniors disproportionately but we don't know why. we know that women vets have a high rate of suicide but don't understand how best to
intervene. this is why we support the suicide prevention act and calls for the senate to take immediate action on the bill. we know that the post-9/11 generation are showing an increased risk but are just starting to understand the risk factors. more research and evaluation is critical. we simply cannot solve what we don't understand. the va has a wealth of research and data and they need to call upon academic to partner with them. we're asking the va to open up their data and invite academics to help be their army to look at this data and help us find the solutions. all veterans deserve the very best our nation can offer. we look forward to working with congress and the administration to address these very real challenges with informed solutions. thank you. >> thank you very much, dr. ms. elam, you're recognized for five minutes nks thank you. we appreciate the opportunity to
testify on this important issue. va as enhanced and promoted a comprehensive set of -- into mental health and primary goals. and re -- early intervention are keel to improving quality of like. promoting on and minimizing the disabling effects of mental illness and suicide. in recent years va's mental health programs have been praised and criticized. outside sources have described the scope, depth and breadth of va's mental health approaches as superior to care in the private sector. data shows that va users have a lower suicide rate than veterans not uses the va health care system. however there have been documented issues with access in the past over prescribing of medications and serious failures
for some veterans, along with a call to action to do more to prevent suicide in this population. in our opinion, va has two major challenges, one to ensure it meets to diverse needs of an increasing needs of vet raens who need specialized mental health servicesance two how to effectively outreach to veterans who are not using va but in crisis or need of help. younger veterans indicate they prefer a variety of nontraditional therapies over medication, such as web based, life coaching, yoga, meditation and acupuncture. va is steadily increasing the ability to access these. this past week wednesday a group of community based organizations sponsored a spartan weekend for ill and injured veterans on the promise that they would not take their own lives without reaching
out to someone for help. the event reached 1.8 million facebook and other social media users and resulted in a number of veterans reaching out for help for the first time. these type of community events will be essential for connecting the veterans to the mental health services they need. dav prefers va to be the provider of mental health services whenever possible. immediate access to care is critical. this group can benefit from the peer-to-peer program, substance use disorder and tbi, as well as the wrap around services and post deployment transition challenges they often face. if a veteran with mel tall health issues needs to access
care, we urge the va to fol loup up with the veteran to insure that the veteran is receiving care. another area we recommend v action put focus on is crisis management. when a veteran is experiencing a mental health crisis and asking for help, there must be ready access for mental health services. we are pleased in that regard that va has been working hard to provide training and services through its crisis line and pilot new programs for peer specialists having been found to be effective. another area we urge focus on is women veterans. according to va, the suicide rate is six times higher for women veterans compared to civilian women. however, it is encouraging to learn that women veterans who use va health services were 75%
less likely to die by suicide than women veterans who did not use va. this suggests that the mental health programs for women are showing promise and positive results and that a concerted focus on this subgroup of veterans should be continued. we do offer suggest that there be improved access for women veterans to specialize in patient and residential mental health programs to ensure recovery and effective reintegration. va must ensure that the programs meet the unique needs of women including safety and privacy concerns. we urge va to continue its training and partnerships with the community providers, improving its mental health programs on suicide prevention and to find innovative ways to engage all veterans who need these services. we can congress to do their part as well, providing va with the resources to for expansion, the
staffing issues and ongoing research. it's our hope that as a community we can work together to ensure that any veteran who needs help can get it. mr. chairman, that concludes my statement. thank you. >> thank you. dr. berger, welcome. you're recognized for five minutes. >> thank you distinguished members. vietnam veterans of america thank you for allowing us to present our testimony. the timing of this hearing is particularly important. as some of you may have read the recent national center for health statistics report that found that suicide in the united states has surged to the highest levels in nearly 30 years. with increases in every age group expect for older adults in the age group, both men and women over the age of 75.
the overall suicide rate has rai hissen by 24%, according to that report. and the increases for so wide spread that they lifted the nation's suicide rate to 13 per 100,000 people, the highest since 1986. there's absolutely no doubt that this country is in the midst of a public health crisis with suicide. and nowhere is that any more true than in the veterans community as we learned back in february 2013 with the va's report on veterans who die by suicide. and particular, that report painted a shocking portrait of what's happening amongst or older vets, my cohort and those who served before me. almost three-quarters of the veterans who commit suicide based on that report are age 50 or older, according to that
report. and even though suicide has become a major focus for the military over the last decade, most research by the pentagon and the veterans affairs department are focused on men who account for more than 90% of the nation's 22 million former troops. little has been done or focused on female veteran suicide until recently. according to an l.a. times article in july 2015 -- by the way, i have to apologize. my written testimony says july 2016. i can't read into the future and i need to get my auto correct fixed on my machine. anyway, the suicide rates are highest among young female veterans, for women ages 18 to 29. veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans. and according to that same
"times" article, amongst that cohort that was looked at, the suicide rate of female veterans closely approximate that of male counter parts in effect, women vets at 28.7 per 100,000 versus 32.1 per 100,000 male vets. but we also can't forget, as the chairman has alluded, that it's from that 2013 report that the figure of 22 veterans suicides per day is calculated. this number is suspect because of the data only representing numbers reported from 21 states from 1999 through 2011 and did not include states with massive veteran community like california and texas which didn't report their suicide ooh to the va at time.
therefore, va calls for an updated veteran suicide report that includes data from all 50 states and u.s. territories and also we strongly suggest that va mental health services develop a nationwide strategy to particularly address the problem of suicides amongst or older veterans. obviously i'm speaking on behalf of our vietnam veteran era group. at the same time we understand it's challenging. but we've got to overcome the barriers, identify and yof come the barriers that prevent our service members from seeking the help that they need and that they deserve. the rks dva is heartened by the efforts that the va has made since february 2016, including
the effort mentioned by the doctor early. while these initiatives are laudable, dva believes strongly they cannot be fully successful without a significant increase in the recruitment, hiring and retention of va mental health staff as well as timely access to va mental health clinical facilities, programs, especially for our rural veterans. and this committee is in a position that can ensure that our veterans and their families are given access to the resources and programs necessary to stem the tide of veteran suicide. once again on behalf of the officers board and general membership, thank you for your leadership and holding this important meeting and i'll be glad to answer any questions. >> thank you. you're recognized. >> chairman, miller, ranking member brown and other distinguished members of the
veterans committee. the tragedy assistance program thanks you for the opportunity to share stories from surviving family members of service members and veterans who have died by suicide. these families are honored to have a vice in this process and they gain healing from the thought that this testimony in remembrance of their loved one may in fact share a life. i am chief external relations officer for suicide prevention and post vengs for the tragedy assistance program for survivors. following my husband's death i joined together with bonnie carol to build the care based support program for all of those grieving a death of an active duty service member or recent veteran who had died by suicide. taft's ultimate goal is to help the families to rebuild their lives on a solid foundation after a death by suicide. tafts presently has over 7,000
survivors. for the purpose of today's suicide -- story system, i have gathered information from family members who have recently lost a veteran to suicide. survivors of military suicide hold a wealth of information on the multiple factors that lead up to this kind of death pap they are on the front lines of a service member or veteran's battle with mental illness, moral injury and the multiple stressors associated with military life. they are witness to the challenges of sigma associated with mental health and the barriers to care for those who are suffering. survivors of veteran suicide loss can provide us a picture of potential impact of challenges within the va system. today's testimony is a summary of information gathered from these families. the first common theme was barriers to care. it's important to note in each case i have highlighted the
veteran was not in ongoing consistent treatment at the va. in most cases the veteran struggled to get the care they needed in a timely fashion. in some cases the veteran himself or herself was the first barrier to good care bawl of their cultural beliefs. this reluctance to share their true story, fear that they would not be wlooefd or insistent that they need to push through and suck it up, in combination with institutional barriers can become a perfect storm for those veterans suffering. families of the veterans struggled to help their loved one often became frustrated with and overwhelmed with navigating the system. lack of involvement in the treatment of their loved one. part of the veteran culture is not to complain or admit to emotional or physical pain and to downplay how serious their
issues are. families feel strongly if they were present, they would have a more accurate plan. it was difficult the to get the veteran to go and agree to get help. when they did do it was during a crisis period and there were long waits or inability to see someone at that time or a misunderstanding of their struggles. the second theme that was throughout all of our families' conversations was the request for peer support. in each case the family tells taps the veteran only wanted to talk to someone else who had been there. they had guilty and shame. this was a barrier in getting appropriate treatment. it eventually leads to an understanding that their symptoms are real and valid and there is treatment that works.
tho so here are our recommendations based on our findings. we have toin crease the number of mental health providers that are trained in evidence based best practices for treatment of these injuries and illness at each contact a vaet ran should will able to get appropriate mental health care in a timely manner. this is especially true in crisis points, er was on outpatient clinics. the family would love to develop groups to offer support and guidance for those supporting a veteran. number three, develop an avenue for family member to call for professional advice and get guidance on how to get their loved one into care. four, make peer support specialists a line item. peer support is an invaluable tool. peer support specialists can be used to reach out to these veterans where they are and build a bridge toward treatment and help them stay in treatment.
five, increase incentives for and streamline process for peers to become mental health professionals. in the case of veterans, personal experience adds a level of trust that greatly increases the possibilities of a veteran seeking treatment and staying in treatment. thank you for listening to us today. we have many families that came to me and would like their story heard and we have those available to you fi you would like to hear those in the future. >> thank you for your testimony. dr. mccarthy, you're recognized for five minutes. >> good morning. thank you for the opportunity to discuss the effectiveness of the department of veterans affairs mental health programs. i am accompanied by chief consultant for mental health and the national director for suicide prevention. va has developed the largest integrated suicide prevention program in the country.
we have over 800 dedicated and passionate employees, including suicide prevention coordinators, 'em deemologists, researchers who spend each day preventing suicide caring for veterans. our overarching strategy enhances veteran's ability for health care. veterans who reach out for help must receive that help when and where they need anytime a way that makes sense for each of them. we do have a good story to tell today. one in which we wish to share hope and progress. and in which we want all veterans to know that va is here to help. but the rest of the story is that we still have work to do. we're pleased to share our progress and the opinions of others outside the va about the quality of our efforts. on february 2nd we hosted a summit to bring together veterans families, other federal agencies, community partners,
veteran service organizations, subject matter experts, members of this committee and other key partners to enhance our work on suicide prevention. powerful for so many attendees were the stories shared by veterans and their families. these stories resonated with us. just as we don't prevent sudden cardiac death only when it's happening, we know that suicide prevention does not necessarily begin with our crisis line or other interventions when suicide is eminent. our efforts are about hope, finding reasons for living, leading a high quality life and developing strong meaningful relationships, engaging veterans in va care and in particular in our whole system of care is a key part of prevention. addressing their job concerns, substance abuse, homelessness,
financial concerns, general medical health and of course mental health are all important steps in preventing suicide. the call to action generated multiple recommendations and initiatives to strengthen va's approach to suicide prevention. for example, a pilot project is returned way to evaluate risk intervention strategies based on data that predict who would be at risk for suicide before these individuals reach a crisis. also, va continue to actively monitor suicide related behaviors through our suicide prevention applications network. we're working to develop a dashboard to allow us to identify possible clusters of suicide related behaviors and to trigger meaningful responses or interventions. va remeans committed to ensuring the safety of set vans, especially when they're in crisis. we do have universal access for 24/7 emergency care through our emergency departments and by
va's veteran's crisis line. the program continue to save lives and link veterans with effective ongoing mental health services on a daily basis. prevents suicide also requires have noted. between 2005 and 2015, the number of veterans who received v.a. mental health care grew by 80%, a rate of increase more than three times that of the overall growth of v.a. users. this reflects the concerted effort to engage veterans knew to our system and stimulate better access to health services. we remain committed to eliminating the stigma associated with receives mental health care. in 2007 we rolled out integrated mental hiss services, which allowed veterans to receive warm handoffs from their primary care team to a mental health provider, present in the primary care clinic on the same day. v.a. has also moved to patient-centered community care, a centralized contracting
mechanism, and has implemented the choice program. we are addressing access through our efforts such as extended hours to help increase capacity, and the hiring of over 900 peer specialists while expanding their role into primary care settings. we partner with more than 150 mental health organizations around suicide prevention. we recognize that we cannot do this alone, and we continue to develop and prioritize these partnerships. we are aware that some veterans are at an even greater risk of suicide. we have individual and group-specific intervepgss tailored to helps in rick for any receipt advance is wub me wu continue to address.
website that provides easily accessible information about the mental health services for veterans. currently the v.a. facility is accessible on several sites including va's hole page includes contact and resource information for a variety of mental health programs. mr. chairman, the crisis aof su s side is remaining focused on providing the highest quality of care while trying to understand more about prekurcursorprecurso. we appreciate the support of congre congress. and we will be happy to respond to any questions you may have. thank you. thank you very much, doctor.
could you -- you talked about having contracted a review of your suicide prevention programs and other outreach efforts. when -- when do you expect to receive the final product from that review? they have started their work. i think we are due to give you a report about august, but in two years, their review will be complete. hopefully an interim report in august. >> yes, sir. >> when we are on our summer work period? >> we'll happily do it whenever it's convenient. >> as soon as possible. thank you and then i think it's important for the committee to know and understand what's the tony time that it takes from bringing a mentality health provision on board? i can tell you the process, and it likely takes several months. when asked about the actual
vacancy rate of psychiatrists, i believe the doctor can testify we're at about 236. we are working -- >> out of how many? 236 out of. >> i have it in my notes somewhere. >> i believe it's about 800. >> and as we continue to hire and expand, some moved around, and then we had vacancies. there's turnover in mental health. the psychologist -- there's a lower rate of vacancy. >> go ahead and talk about the process of recruitment going all the way to bring through something on board. >> so typically there's advertisement.
people apply often through usa jobs. the applicants are reviewed. interviews are conducted. they a cresse denchaling process that's sensitive to how quick the information is imported to the credentialing process. they need in there relatively quickly. after that, an offer is made and a start date is given. i -- i do not have the average time. i would be happy to get back to you on that. >> we talked a bit about the clay hunt suicide peru vent act. according to figures that i have, because of the enroll machined period been extended, there have been almost 1,000 veterans enrolled into the v.a. health system.
what have you learned from those roughly 995 individuals in regards to your outreach to them and, you know, what can be done to provide more information about current programs? >> thank you, sir. tone are xwsh pell inkem v.a. health care. we have that we're currently ongoing with our health el general office to try to decrease any barriers, to help have every person leaving the military have a health plan when they leave. we've done that especially already for people that have
been engaged in mental health care, but this is for all of them, to have the health care plan when they leave. what we are looking at is not automatic enrollment, but essentially close to that, so that if they haven't chosen or indicated another health care system, we would like to decrease any bureaucracy, and get them enrolled very quickly. >> what are the biggest barriers you've heard that they feel like they have to overcoupled? >> on some level there's a sense that some veterans do not understand they are entitled to care. and for our vets who are post-9/11 leaving that five-year eligible level, there really should be no barrier. we have treated women veterans who said literal any a clinic, i didn't know i was eligible for service. so we have to change or messaging to be more welcoming to all our veterans, as much as we try, we have people at outreach events, our sued side coordinators to giv outreaches. >> we go to the welcome home ceremonies, but something is not
happening. >> so the person -- who is the first person? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i want to thank all the witnesses for your testimony. i also want to make a pitch to you, mr. chairman. mr. kauffman held a wonderful reception for a group of people from colorado that did a wonderful video, in which you're part of the future. and i hope that we can do something to encourage the
committee to take the time i haven't seen it but i understand it's good. >> very good. very powerful. it is long but i think it will give committee members other ideas we need to follow and follow through on. >> the director, stephon tubs >> well, the director, mr. tubbs, is a very impassioned advocate. >> well, it's certainly -- it's certainly -- i intend to show it at events at my district. and it's a very bipartisan -- a very bipartisan video. anyway, my -- i have some questions for i believe it's the va about taps. i understand that taps has a -- is a big supporter of peer-based counseling.
you recommended in testimony that peer support specialist should be a line item in the budget. what do you recommend that va do better with regard to their peer support program? >> well, i know there's about 900 out there now, but there needs to be more. we need more money to get that program built bigger than everywhere. because what our families told us they had a lot of trouble getting their veteran to the va. they had a lot of misconceptions about what would happen there. they don't understand treatment. they are afraid of treatment. they're afraid of being overdrugged. and so it -- they would not go to the va until they were in crisis. and then it's very difficult to get immediate mental health care when you're in crisis, where we'd rather have them in the system before the crisis getting treatment. so, these peer specialists have done everything from going and finding a homeless veteran to bringing them to the va and getting them into the system to getting them housing, to sticking with them and to describing what treatment is to
say i went there. i had the same symptoms. i went there and i'm better. so, they can really be a bridge for all of this. because i think one of the biggest challenges is not getting our veterans who are suffering into good evidence-based treatment for the treatments they are suffering were from these wars. and all of my cases are ones who fell through the cracks. they all died by suicide. and every one of them i talked to had tried to go to the va, had tried little places but didn't go until they were in crisis and then it was very difficult to get the treatment they want when they were already in crisis and so many things that already interfered with their lives. >> dr. berger? >> i think it's misleading to say that -- generalizing and say 900 peer support persons have been hired. it makes it seem like they're all in mental health when that's not true. okay? so, i think we need some answers about how many peer support people do we actually have in mental health.
>> is there a response to that question? >> so, the number that we quoted are primarily mental health or part of the primary mental health integration program, so they're linked to being the ones that reach out and encourage the veteran to receive care. >> do we need -- do we need to fund this more? do we need to fund more? how much more do we need to fund it? >> is that for me, sir? >> yes. >> it's my understanding there's two pieces, right? there's the peer support specialists that are the training, but then there's also an avenue for peers to become mental health providers. right? that's two straight things. so, having peers, veterans who have been there, get the training to be mental health counselors in the system, is a win/win for both because we're taking those veterans who had this experience and are able to use it to do good and to save other veterans. so, it's two different tracks. we're talking about peer support specialists to go out into the community to get them into the
va and we're talking about a streamline of getting peers, veterans, trained in mental health to be counselors. two separate pieces. >> my question is, is there adequate funding? if not, how much more do we need? >> i don't have that. but we'd be happy to get back with you on that amount. >> please. >> thank you. can i just clarify the number i gave as the number of vacancies? i'm sorry, chairman miller, we currently have 550 on-board psychologists and 2,300 on board psychiatrists in va. and so when i talked about 236 vacancies, it's 236 out of 3,203. >> okay. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you for having this important hearing today. dr. mccarthy, the bill that we passed, the clay/hunt suicide prevention act for american veterans, requires the va to collaborate with nonprofit
mental health organizations to do three things -- to improve the efficiency of suicide prevention efforts. to assist other nonprofit organizations to do a better job and to collaborate with these nonprofit organizations. what is the va doing, and how are these collaborative efforts coming along? >> so, i did mention before our call to action summit that happened in february. that's one piece of it. we really brought a lot of people together. not for us to tell them, but for them to tell us what we really need to be doing, what we need to keep doing, what we need to do better, what we need to do differently. more than that we sponsor community mental health summits around the country, and this is our fourth year of doing it. each medical center sponsors a summit, in which information is
shared bidirectionally. our homeless outreach folks have done that and mental health has been doing that. we've learned and we've shared. and it's been extremely productive for the collaboration. one other thing we've been doing is actually working with partners in the community who provide care. we realize that especially as part of choice there are veterans out there receiving mental health care and we want them to have a warm welcome reception in the community just like we want for them to have that at va. we've developed in partnership with dod a military competence training for providers. it's -- provides up to eight hours of continuing medical education free for community providers or internally, for people to be able to understand the language and about taking a military history. we've also lobbied to have cpt code added for taking a military history, which is part of a reimbursement mechanism in the
private sector so that people will be encouraged and financially rewarded for doing that. >> okay. thank you. and dr. berger, i'd like to ask you a question about research, and i think we all agree there needs to be more research. you said that about 70% of veteran suicides are people of the -- among males is people of the age 50 and older. according to your chart, 85% of male veteran suicides are age 40 or older. >> well, sir -- >> so, my question is -- my question is, when -- let's say vietnam-era veterans who served 40 to 50 years ago, let's say between 65 and 75 -- 1965 and 1975, tell us about the connection between that service and a suicide at the age of 70 or something like that? i understand probably every suicide is for unique and
personal reasons. but what can -- what does research tell us about the connection there? >> well, certainly -- excuse me, sir. there are risk factors that all veterans share. there's no denying it. but at the same time as we age, there may be additional risk factors added to the pool. for example, in the case of our older vets, it may involve insurance, health insurance kinds of things, if they're not enrolled in the va in particular. there may be family issues. that surface at that time. the structure in our lives changes. but at the same time i'm not aware of any folk cuss geronitological research on the different aged cohorts and which risk factors may be important at particular points in time.
>> okay. thank you. and i appreciate the work of every one of you on the panel. our hearts go out to those who have committed suicide at whatever age, and so thank you for your preventive work. mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you. ms. bradley, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and i wanted to thank you for bringing up the female veteran suicide prevention act. and i am encouraging all of you to help in supporting this bill. we have a companion bill in the senate, and i certainly would like to see this particular piece of legislation see it through. because i think the focus, although dr. berger talked about -- i believe you talked about an increase in being able to treat women veterans, i think it's really critically important that the va is the expert, the absolute expert, in this issue
around suicide and particularly looking at best practices for both our male and female veterans, because i do think a female experience on the battlefield can be very different from a man's experience. so, thank you for that. i also, you know, wanted to talk a little bit about the outreach. and i know that we have a transitional program to have a warm handoff when our veterans leave the service from the dod to the va. and i think that that's positive. i'm curious to know how well that's going and what it looks like. but i think we have to actually dig back further. in other words, you know, it seems to me we should have medical professionals on the battlefield there. i think in terms of outreach with family members, i think we need to, for -- for a veteran who is sent to the battlefield who is potentially going to experience trauma, the family members should be trained and prepared so on their re-entry back the family members need to
i think in terms of outreach with family members, i think we need to, for -- for a veteran who is sent to the battlefield who is potentially going to experience trauma, the family members should be trained and prepared so on their re-entry back the family members need to know. and when we talk about older veterans, which for the first time today i'm aware that the suicide rate amongst older veterans is going up, you know, we've got to figure out some kind of outreach in those cases as well. but i do think that -- i think, you know, we train our men and women to go to the battlefield and be prepared to save their physicality and their physical health, but we also need to prepare them to survive their mental health as well.
and so i think we have to go further back, starting really at the beginning, so that people are knowledgeable and aware. even the veteran can be aware of their own behaviors and help themselves. so, i guess, you know, the question that i would like to answer -- or to get some answers from is, you know, really how this handoff situation from the dod to the va is really working. how do these handoffs take place. what are they looking like. and are we collecting some data on that to figure out if -- if this kind of warm handoff is actually working. i open it up to anyone. >> so, we're kind of looking at who might do this. >> i'll jump right in here, at least from the perspective, what i know about it. you know, vva has stayed away from using the term "seamless transition" because there is no
such thing. i would only point out we have many, many cases where the transfer quite frankly there's no other way to say it is screwed up, and it ends in the result -- focusing on today's topic, in a veteran suicide. for example, i'm sure you've all heard, there's at least two or three cases in the last year or so of vets who were prescribed certain kind of medication and dod for their mental health challenges they get to the outside, those records weren't forwarded to the va or there was some kind of barrier or what have you, the va gives a diagnosis, puts them on perhaps another complete set of mental health medications and they can't cope. and they take their own lives. >> dr. mccarthy, do you have any responses in terms of that response and how you believe the program is working and if what dr. berger is saying is true, how do we rectify that?
>> so, i'll be happy to respond to the medication parts and i'll turn it over to dr. thompson about the program if that's okay. thanks, tom, for bringing that up. we have had an opportunity to look very closely in our cross-agency partnerships about this particular transition time and medications. and we have made it now so that all psychiatric and pain meds that would be prescribed in dod could be prescribed in va. and it is our expectation that those meds -- the medications would continue seamlessly. however, the expectation is that the provider would do a safety review, so if, for instance, there are multiple drugs of the same class and too many, that at that point they could be adjusted. but the expectation clearly is that this go well. we started. we've done two sets of chart reviews actually looking at specifically transitioning
veterans of 1,000 veterans that we checked, i believe the number was 20 that had a medication change that was not what we expected it to be. that's 20 too many. and so we provided feedback to those providers who made that change and we've also increased our education program specifically about meds. but i'd like caitlin to talk about the transition program. >> well, my time has run out, but maybe we can follow-up. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you. dr. rowe? >> i'll yield my time to answer the question. >> thank you, sir. so, we also have what's called the in-transition program which is a coaching model so that vet -- service members who are -- who have difficulties with mental health are given a coach while they're still in service, who then help them and make sure that they have that transition point across -- across to the va, but we really take all of this extremely seriously, especially because we know and for older veterans, but also for others, that those veterans who are going through transition in any way are at very high vulnerability for suicide risk. >> okay. thank you. i want to start by, first of all, thanking the va.
i think you all have -- i think you do have the largest comprehensive mental health program in the united states, and it's not perfect, but it's certainly better than it was seven years ago, when i first got here, 7 1/2 years ago. there's no question the focus the congress has given and the va has given has improved things. one of the things that's hard to do in suicide, and, first of all, as a practicing physician, was to identify those people who are at risk. because it's a silent demon that you carry around, you don't care with anyone. i think one of the things we've learned today is that when patients, veterans, do get into care at the va their suicide rate has gone down. we've figured that out. number two, we've learned that the hiring process at the va is
ridiculously long and should be shortened not just for mental health but other providers for health care. i think that's got to be shortened. i don't know what takes so long. i've hired multiple physicians in my career and it doesn't take that long. it's not that hard to do to do your background checks and so forth to find out what you need. i think the other thing that has been brought up, and what is confusing about this, is when you look at the data -- and i think the cohorts of people are different. for instance, us guys, vietnam-era guys, that's a different cohort than the younger veterans that are leaving. when you look at the suicide data among -- from 2001 to '7, nondeployed veterans had suicide rates higher than deployed veterans which is confusing for us. the fact that we -- i mean, why does that happen? so, i think more research is important. and i think one of the things that we have to do, family and friends and being -- there is no question, i looked at data years ago when i was in practice that showed that somebody that went to a psychiatrist who had a higher rate of suicide than
somebody who talked to their best buddy. so, having a good friend to talk to and having someone you point also out very clearly, i think you need to expand this program that you can touch a buddy who was in the service. those of us who served have a different view of the world and so forth. if you have someone who has put their overalls just like you have, i think it makes a big difference. i think that's a program that works, and it should be expanded. the other thing i want to encourage you to do in the va and outside the va is good, good data, because without that you can't make the right decisions. you just cannot. and you can't just group us all into one big group. you got to look at different cohorts, female, younger veterans and older veterans like i am. so, i'll stop there and let anyone make a comment. >> so, maybe i could mention the data analysis that's going on right now because we're excited about this. this is very different from what
we did in the past where we had to get data from the states and some states gave us data and some did not. we have worked with cdc and with dod and have requested data on everybody that had been in the military or the va between 1979 and 2015. and so we sent multiple disks with data that could be matched with the cdc data for suicide. and it's coming back to us. it's very raw. it involves a lot of individual checking and so forth. we so wanted to have the data to share with you at the hearing. we don't. we were told that it would be analyzed by the middle of the summer and we promise we'll get it to you as soon as we can. but we're really excited, because this is not state specific, and it crosses ages, sexes and all those other kinds of risk factors that we really want to be able to identify and we want to make that data available to our academic partners in a transparent way so others can help us understand the data. >> two things that was said and
dr. berger pointed it out, the 22, just saying 22, well, that is probably not correct. because if you look it was just 21 states. it probably isn't correct and yet that's quoted all the time. that's why we need accurate data. and in the u.s. we're 50th in the world in suicide. i'm proud of the fact that we're really pointing out, because it all comes down to one person. look at all this data. it doesn't matter when you're the one person, the one patient out there, the one veteran or civilian, that's contemplating taking their life. it's preventable. it's just like opioid addiction and death. those are preventable deaths if we pay attention. i yield back, mr. chairman. >> thank you very much. mr. custer, you're recognized. >> thank you very much, mr. chair, and thank you, dr. rowe, for setting up my comments on the opioids. because as i sit and listen -- and, by the way, this is one of the best panels i've heard since we've been here. but as i sit and listen, excuse
me, there's so many corollaries. i'm a co-chair of the bipartisan congressional task force on -- to combat the heroin epidemic, and we now have over 80 bipartisan members and we're passing 15 bills this week. and i want to commend my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and jackie for her work on veterans. we passed yesterday the promise act. but there's so many corollaries, and many of the same people, four out of five heroin users, have a co-occurring mental health disorder, often undiagnosed and untreated. but i wanted to speak to you particularly, ms. -- i'm sorry. first of all, my condole lenss for your loss, but thank you for your courage. >> thank you. >> and a big part of this is about stigma. it's about mental health generally and the stigma around mental health.
so, one piece i want to convey to you is that we want to help. help you to be a leader on addressing stigma and particularly for veterans. in new hampshire i'm very proud of a new program that we have that's called ask the question. and we're using this across the state. this is way beyond the veteran community. this is our entire health care community, mental health community, every person that comes in contact with anyone who comes before them to ask the question, did you ever serve. my father was a world war ii pilot, spent -- was shot down. he was a p.o.w. for six months. no one ever asked him this question. he never talked about it until he was well into his 70s, and it was only when my boys growing up started asking him all the
questions, what was the plane like, what happened to you. what do you mean. what happened after you hit the ground, you know, tell this story. so, i'm curious about this peer support, because this is what one of my communities has just started for heroin use. >> yeah. >> and it turns out that incredible psychological bond of someone who's been before you. and if you can talk more about how can we help you to grow that program. and then just generally for any of the witnesses, how can any of us here help with the stigma and the support. and then just lastly, really want to commend a candidate -- and i don't mean this to be partisan. to be honest, i don't even know his party, but this is in yesterday's politico, one candidate's risky vet talking about his ptsd. he's running in delaware and he's a veteran. and it is a risky bet, but the courage for you as a family
member to come forward and for others to come forward i think is critical. >> so, thank you so much. and i'm from massachusetts, so i'm aware of that campaign, and it's a great campaign. and we actually have all been speaking together, like, kate and i work a lot together on messaging with the department of defense, and one thing we've really talked about is there is a need for all of us as a whole to change the messaging around the va and around suicide. >> good. >> you know? that number 22 that's been going around, we had a suicide in the veteran population about five months ago who left a suicide note and in the suicide note said i'm going to be one of the 22 today. why should i even try? so, having the negative messages out there that it's an epidemic, that there's 22 dying a day is increasing hopelessness in our veteran poppulation and the feeling of treatment doesn't work. it is the biggest barrier to them getting real good treatment with the demon that they're
bringing with us from unresolved early childhood trauma and additional combat-related issues. so, i think we need a campaign where we're all speaking with one voice about the people that are getting treatment, that treatment works, that more people are getting treatment and surviving than are dying by suicide, so we can get those veterans out there really thinking, do you know what, there's others who have gone through this. they've survived it, and they're doing well. because we have amazing veterans in our communities that are doing unbelievable work. and we have peer-based programs all over the country, like red white and blue and team rubicon that are pulling these people together and providing hope and are beacons about who these people really are. they are loyal and smart and dedicated. so, we've got to start a campaign that looks at that and talks about that, and stop focusing on the fact of how many have died. we've raised awareness. we know it's a problem. let's get in forums like this
and fix the problem, but at the same time get a message going out there that they -- that treatment works and it doesn't have to be that way. i think that's really important. >> my time is up. i'm sorry, we'll have to come back on another round. but i will just say i saw the other night on television the "invectus" going on this week with the sports. >> yes. >> so powerful with the hidden wounds of war. this is part of what we're going through in the addiction community an anonymity has been such a big part of this, which is important for treatment. but for those on the other side to come out and start to tell their story is so powerful. >> so powerful. thank you. >> thank you for being with us. >> thank you very much. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i, too, would like to thank you all for being here this morning. i just want to follow-up on something with dr. mccarthy
that's been bugging me since i've been around here. and i don't know, i mean, is it emblematic of what's going on? is it a sign of the sincerity of the va? but i have an issue with, when you call the va hospital and there's an automated message that says "dial one for the pharmacy, dial two for the outpatient clinic, dial three for the o.r." but if you have a mental health crisis, please hang up and dial a ten-digit number, okay? this is a pet peeve of mine, all right? and i have been working on this not only in my district, it's -- they fixed that, all right? because i've been on it all the time. but as of this morning, in michigan, the iron mountain va and the saginaw va have fixed it, but there's still three mental centers in michigan you have to hang up and dial an 800 number.
i brought this up in committee a long time ago, and i'm asking why this is not fixed. they said, it will all be fixed in six months. well, that was more than six months ago. and i'd like to know why we just can't fix this right now. why does this change take so long. you agree it should be fixed, right? >> sir, absolutely. i have good news. i have some good news. there are 12 vas where you can press one and get directly connected from the medical -- >> 12. >> -- 12, to the crisis line. >> that's what i'm telling you, it's not very many. >> which is pretty great in terms of the technology. it's not all of them and it should be all of them, that is clearly in the works -- >> this is why i bring this up, okay? because this is something that should be fixed automatically without taking a year to do it. all right? so, here we are talking about mental health crisis, all right? and you can't do this. you understand what i'm saying? we got all kind of huge problems to solve in dealing with mental health patients and you can't fix this? it is outrageous. i mean, i -- i'm amazed by this.
i mean, it hurts me. because this is -- these are blocking and tackling. this is solving the individual problems that veterans have when calling -- this is a crucial thing. i mean, i've had individuals talk to me about this very problem, you know, and they try to kill themselves in the parking lot of the va because they couldn't get help. so, i am trying to tell you, my comment here is, that this is a blocking, tackling, minor thing. these are the kind of things you have to fix every day and not take a year to do it. so, you're telling me that there's only 12 places in the country that this is actually occurring out of the hundreds of va facilities around? >> it's my understanding it was 12 the last time i checked. i know it's rolling out really quickly. >> is there somebody within the va that's resisting this change that you're aware of? >> oh, no. we have a rather old phone system and we have a number of challenges with it.
>> don't tell me that. you got dial one to the pharmacy, it connects to the pharmacy just fine. do you know what i mean? so don't blame it on the phone system. here's the other thing i want to know. when you dial this crisis line, i mean, a lot of people end up dialing the crisis line because that's the only place they can get a person, all right? so, what is the process for triageing people that call the crisis line who may not actually be in mental health crisis but they are trying desperately to talk to somebody at the va. >> let me let dr. thompson take that call because she's dworkd there. >> thank you, sir, these are very important points. by the end of the summer all of the vas will have rolled out the press seven so the press seven numbers get to the veterans crisis line. the reason that they have to phi lot it is because they have to know how many people will be available at the crisis line as they roll this out. otherwise there won't be enough people to answer those calls.
>> now you are saying the 800 number, there's nobody there? >> i'm sorry, sir? >> no, sir. >> your answer makes me suggest that you're not rolling it out because you don't have people behind the scenes to do it. >> no, we have to -- you have to phi lot things in order for -- to understand what the rollout's going to be, but i assure you that by the end of the summer all vas will be rolled out, but we absolutely understand -- >> that's what you said last year. >> this has taken -- this has taken longer than we had thought. >> we personally tested it and -- >> what about the question i just asked about the -- >> yes, sir. when people -- and i worked on the crisis line for five years. when people call the crisis line, there is a set of questions to ensure that the people isn't at immediate risk and they need somebody right away, which happens 30 to 40 times a day where somebody needs that immediate help because they're in the process of dying by suicide. they can't -- they can't commit to being safe. so, but -- >> how many questions is it? >> it varies as far as --
there's certainly, like, a few questions that are -- that are important for a suicide -- >> how long does it take? >> -- a suicide risk assessment. >> how long's it take? >> to do a suicide risk assessment? >> on the phone, yeah. >> the immediate -- the immediate question is are you safe right now really. and that's an immediate question. and then there needs to be developed a rapport with the person who is calling, so many of the people that call this is the first time they've called. >> okay. all right. i'm out of time, thank you. >> -- before. >> i would glad to give you some more if you need it. >> and i'm happy to keep answering the question but -- >> unfortunately, i don't know that your answers are what he's looking for. >> it doesn't sound like it. >> to talk about a silly pilot on something as serious as this is just ridiculous. mr. o'rourke. >> thank you, mr. chairman. and, mr. chairman, i'd like to begin by talking for bringing much-needed attention and focus and accountability to this issue. i can't think of a more important issue for us to be working on, and i think that's reflected in your leadership,
and i would just ask that we continue to keep the pressure and the focus and our commitment to provide the resources and the oversight necessary to make progress on this issue. and i think to a person we are all there with you, and the ranking member, to maintain this as a priority. and i want to thank everyone who's part of the panel today from the va and from the advocate community for your help and focus, the information that you're bringing to this, so that we can make better decisions, so that we can hold ourselves and the va accountable for making improvements. and i want to echo the ranking member's suggestion that through you, dr. mccarthy, this goes to the secretary, he has 12 wonderful priorities for transformation of the va, not one of them is specific to reducing veteran suicide. and i authored a letter that the ranking member, republicans and democrats, signed asking for just that.
i'd hate to have to do that legislatively. i think that's something that -- that the secretary can do and should do and will ask him through you to do just that. until it is a stated priority we're not going to see the changes that we need to see. we're not going to prioritize prevention. we're not going to move from pilot programs to full implementation of necessary interventions. i just believe in that wholeheartedly. and it needs to happen. and if we need to get the veterans advocate community behind that to create the political pressure and will to do that, then so be it. but let's not have to do that. one of the questions i have is whether if -- we'll just use 22 as our baseline statistic, 22 veterans a day taking their lives. if 17 of those veterans are not accessing va care and if we believe if they were to have accessed va care, the outcomes
would have been better. dr. mccarthy, is the va ready today in terms of capacity, number of providers, space, other considerations to see those 17 veterans? >> that's a very thoughtful question. you know, we've tried to do with the 17 is find other ways to have us reach out to them. and so we have the suite of mobile applications, we've worked on helping providers treat them and so forth. space is a challenge. >> let me ask you this, because i was really looking for a yes or no, and it sounds like the answer is no. i won't put words in your mouth, if the answer is, in fact, yes, tell me. but it sounds like the answer is no. what i'd like to know what it will take to be able to see each one of those 17 veterans in terms of resources, in terms of planning, in terms of new facilities, in terms of agreements with community providers to take some of the pressure off the va for what i would call non-core priorities. arthritis is incredibly important to provide care for, so is diabetes, so is the flu. but if there's a community
provider who can see veterans arthritis is incredibly important to provide care for, so is diabetes, so is the flu. but if there's a community provider who can see veterans for those issues so that we can focus our hiring and our resources and our care for as dr. rowe said an eminently preventible condition, suicidal ideaiation and ultimately suicide, we can do that, and we can prevent the loss of life. i can't think of anything more important for the va to do, and so my question for you and through you to the secretary and i think each of us wants to see the answer to this. what will it take to see each of those 17 veterans?
it sounds like we'll have an updated number this summer. >> yes. >> the question follows if that number is 25 and if only 4 of the 25 we want to know what the other 21 are going to do. would you mind providing an anxious of a full, detailed, honest, accurate answer to every member of this committee? >> i'll be happy do my best to get that answer to you, sir. i took it when you asked me the question did we have the capacity internally, and we do not have that capacity internally. when you mentioned community providers, we do have a network of community providers but we're not up to speed with 100% of them in that position. so, yes, we'll take your
question, and i promise you, we'll give you the answer to the best of our ability. >> thank you. i yield back. >> thank you. mr. hulescamp? >> thank you, mr. chairman. mr. o'rourke has done tremendous work bringing the attention of the committee and recognizing the difficulties in his area. i want to follow up a little bit more on the questions that you mentioned and the network of community providers. can you describe how the choice program has worked in terms of mental health care and meeting the needs of rural areas like mine and elsewhere across the country. >> so, let me start with the choice program. i can talk about the community care that was provided and the number of appointments that have been provided by choice. i'm going to speak in somewhat round numbers. but in the -- in fiscal year '13 we had over 16,000 appointments in the community. in fiscal year '14, 24,000. fiscal year '15 we had 31,000 in the community. and over 3.4 thousand through
choice. the choice program has green. this year we have over 18,000 so far and there are a number that haven't yet been attributed to the year that when people were doing the review. so, the choice program is growing. and we're grateful for that, and i know our veterans are. >> and the numbers on choice, do you know which those are based on waiting too long versus distance requirements? >> that, sir, i do not know. i do not know. >> and do you have a general figure on the waiting time for those that -- and how do you calculate that in this particular situation? >> so, our undersecretary has asked us to rethink access and how we talk about wait times. and to do that in a veteran-centric way. he said really the only important measure of wait time is the veteran satisfaction with how quickly they've been seen. and so that is the direction we're moving toward in calculating how we're doing with access. we have an online kind of -- or kiosk means, i'm sorry, in which we'll assess veterans each day as they're in our system. and did they get the care they needed when they felt they
needed it. and a similar question, we have -- what we use is the shep survey and other health care systems ask the same question as part of the cap survey, but that question is was the care available to you when you needed it. and that really is how we need to feel about accessing in a veteran-centric way. we want to be transparent, sir, and we just feel like as we've gone through all the descriptions of create date, desired date, you know, all those -- all those other descriptors, we've managed to confuse a lot of people and really the most important person we want to satisfy is the veteran. and so our measures -- >> in this situation it's certainly not like other items in health care. we're dealing with suicide. >> yes, sir. >> obviously a very serious matter. i'm not saying the others are not, so what is the number? i heard the long description how difficult. if you call and push seven, you're one of the lucky 12 vas you don't have to dial the crisis hotline, how long does it take for you to see a mental health care provider? and do you not have that number,
or tell us. >> so, first of all, if you press seven or you call the crisis line, that gets you to the crisis line where an assessment is made, is this an urgent situation, just as was asked before. if the veteran is in urgent need and the veteran calls or comes to the medical center, our expectation is that that veteran is seen that day. okay. they come to our emergency room, they're seen that day. an urgent need is seen that day. our -- however, if they come to a place like a community-based outpatient clinic and it's, you know, after-hours or something and the clinic is closed, we need to understand urgency there. our expectation is that the medical center, the parent medical center, has an emergency room where that person could be seen. urgent same day. >> but what if you're 200 miles away?
>> so, then if you're working through the crisis line the expectation is that the crisis line assists you with getting the care you need. reaching out either to the medical center or to some -- the suicide prevention coordinators in the medical center to arrange for that care. urgent, the expectation. >> but, again, a little more. these are limited circumstances, but in rural areas i don't think you have the network in my area that you certainly have elsewhere. what do they do? i'm just curious, and maybe it's individual circumstance, each one of these probably obviously is. what do they do, when they are 200 miles away they call the hotline and they say it's an urgent situation. so, what do you do next? >> well, caitlin who has worked the hotline will explain this. >> yeah, certainly. and this happens all the time. the crisis line has received
calls from people who were in the middle of lakes, you know, so you get that emergency person immediately to that person. if the va is 200 miles away they'll immediately go to the closest facility and all of that is coordinated between the crisis line and the local officials. >> local officials. sorry to get into this, but unless the choice program is working well, that -- which in some cases it's not, you're just going to call -- who would you call? >> so, i think we're talking -- we might be talking about a couple of different things. but in terms of an imminent situation, someone says i am feeling suicidal, the veteran crisis line will get them to whoever is available at that moment the closest person, and then they can coordinate that care afterwards. >> and i appreciate -- i'm sorry, mr. chairman. rural areas, this is not just with veterans. where's the network. and i'd be curious in the state of kansas and elsewhere, show me who you would call, because i doubt that you have a network up that you can pick up the phone and say i know who to call out in the middle of western kansas and say we're going to get --
and, again, we're 200, 300 miles away and every other care they're expected to drive until we did the choice program, so if we could have some follow-up discussion in my particular area what do they do. because i'm hearing from veterans, i'm hearing from folks active duty as well, what do they do and the phone's not working. but these emergent situations and long term as well, what do you do after that. >> exactly. >> two months later and there's no -- not much of a network there. >> and that's the crux of suicide prevention. so, i'll be looking forward to the follow-up. >> i apologize, mr. chairman. >> thank you. ms. rice? >> thank you, mr. chairman. i'll direct this question to ms. mccarthy. i've heard from many veterans who straighted from the military with what's called other than an honorable discharge. we all know that. that was their designation. these are the veterans who are often the most difficult to reach out to because depending on the discharge, they are not able to access many -- access many va services like health care, housing or employment help. the va's characterization of discharge process is we all know very messy. it often takes years before a decision is made on whether or
not a veteran can have a reclassification so that they are eligible for these benefits. and i want to just take a moment to thank our colleague mike coffman for introducing the veteran urgent access to mental health care act to ensure that all veterans, regardless of their discharge designation, can accession the care they desperately need before something tragic happens. it seems to me that that's about as big a red flag as you can have for someone who might be -- have suicidal issues, right? because of that designation. so, what i want to know is, what is the va doing specifically to increase outreach to this most vulnerable population of veterans with other than honorable discharges? have you researched that there is a connection between that designation of other than honorable discharge and suicide
or attempted suicides? and i think your ability to kind of improve the characterization of discharge process is limited, because i know it's, you know, it's either air force or the specific wing. but what, if anything, have you done to address this issue? >> so, thanks for the question. let me -- let me start by saying that it is indeed a problem. and we have identified it certainly in partnership with ava, we've been working on trying to come to a solution. that's partly why we wanted to make sure the -- first of all, the mobile apps are all available. there's this 12 suite this whole
suite of things and they have access to the kinds of tools, the use of meditation and coaching for ptsd and online tools which can help them with their symptoms, help them identify them and them help them with the treatments. any vietnam veteran seen i believe before 2004 at the vet center and then all combat veterans are eligible for services at the vet center. there are 80% of the employees there are veterans themselves, and they can actually provide counseling for people, irregardless of the kind of discharge, and they also provide some counseling to active duty military as part of the choice act we were ask to open our doors and -- for a veteran -- for active duty service members with mst and some of them are coming to the vet centers for the care.
>> what about the connection between the designation and suicides or attempted suicides? do you have that number or no? >> i don't have that number. i think a.v.a. has that number. >> there's been a study done that two times more at risk for suicide. this is one piece why a.v.a. has been so focused on this issue. there's a recent report out and others that partnered on the report that estimates 125,000 post-9/11 vets with bad paper, not all of these are going to fall into that category of needing mental health, but certainly some of them will. and for some of these, these are individuals who might have been -- received that discharge status due to symptoms of an undiagnosed mental health illness or injury. and so this is why we are certainly urging passing of the fairness for veterans act but we're also calling for -- we all need to come together. at dod, this is a dod, va, congress and the vsos and msos, there needs to be a comprehensive plan.
we've been over the last few years there have been pieces that have been getting to the solution, but we haven't gotten near to that solution. the other challenge is that many of the community providers out there, many of the community programs, base their eligibility off of the definition and the eligibility requirements at va. so, even those programs that could potentially be helping these individuals aren't available to them. the vet centers are fantastic. our members are constantly holding them up as -- as a top resource, resources they go to, resources they recommend. and one of the things we'd like to see done is an assessment of the vet centers, how they're being used, are there enough of them, are they underutilized, are they overutilized and how can we expand them because if there is that demand there, they certainly are not just for those with bad paper but for families
as well. their criteria is much more broad than the va and they can do a lot more. >> if i can just make a comment. i applaud you. i would imagine how difficult it must be for you to get past what must have been enormous anger and for you to be able to deal with that and be sitting here and be such an advocate. i was at an event last night with an organization called penfed, and they support obviously our veterans, but also last night one of the caregivers for a veteran was given an award, and it was the mother of a service member who was severely wounded in his service. and i think it's time that we, you know, maybe focus on help to caregivers as well. >> absolutely. >> but it is an enormous population that we ask a lot of and you sacrifice an enormous
amount, and i thank you very much. thank you, mr. chairman. >> well, thank you for that. >> thank you very much. mr. coffman? you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman. appreciate the comments of congresswoman rice on this important issue of veterans being discharged under other than honorable conditions and being denied access to mental health care from the va. combat veterans with multiple tours of duty, who i think in a very unfair way, for particularly the united states army to conduct reduction in force through singling out combat veterans who might have some disciplinary issues, oftentimes we believe related to posttramatic stress disorder, and that are discharged without any access to va mental health care is a recipe for problems in and of itself. and so this legislation -- and i know many of the members here,
mr. o'rourke, mr. waltz, mr. zeldin and others are co-sponsoring this legislation. but we absolutely need to get that done. i want to thank iava for really being a catalyst on this very important issue. let me just pivot to -- i have a real concern that we've had testimony before this committee before concerning -- concerning a drug-centric therapy. and a form of treatment, modality of treatment. in fact, we had testimony of veteran suicide, where i think a former service member was given a cocktail of drugs in response to treatment. and then moved, relocated. the prescriptions ran out. was unable to navigate the bureaucracy of vha to get the prescriptions refilled, and given the powerful nature of some of those drugs, took his own life.
and then i think we've had testimony as well -- well, in fact, i was with congressman lamborn in his district in colorado springs where we had testimony from parents of a marine who had served tours of duty i think in iraq and afghanistan. had left the service. went to the va for mental health care. they gave him a very powerful drug that part of the -- part of the directions on the drug were it required constant monitoring.
he was not monitored. he subsequently took his life. and so i just think that this reliance on these very powerful drugs is a shortcut to treatment. by the va. and i think it's costing veteran lives. and i want you to respond to that. >> so, you know, i'm not prepared to talk about individual situations. >> sure. >> but i'd be happy to talk about our expectation. when we had learned about some of these problems with people moving, we've made it really clear the expectation is that the meds continue and that any barriers to that be broken down so that the meds would continue. so, we appreciate that having been brought to our attention, and it is certainly our hope and our expectation that that particular problem is not occurring at this time. as far as treatments go, the evidence-based treatments for ptsd in particular include cognitive behavioral therapy, prolonged exposure therapies, all therapies that do not involve medications. and it's really important that the right kinds of treatments are used. as a provider, a psychiatrist, who has treated veterans with ptsd, i know that often the despair and the frustration and the impatience that you see when you talk to a veteran leads you to think i've got to do something.
and i think that leads to people at times making choices about meds that they might not otherwise make. let me try this. let me try that. you know, there is no single pill that's a cure for -- >> well, a pill to get up in the morning and a pill to go to bed at night and a pill for this and that. >> and that's wrong. >> i think it has an adverse cumulative effect. i think it's been raised by this panel about the vacancies in the va in terms of mental health providers being hired by vha. we had a very good roundtable with the leadership of vha in this room, not that long ago, and one thing that was
interesting that was raised in that was, how difficult it is for somebody who wants a job in the va to navigate, how long it takes to get accepted by the va and how long it takes to get placed by the va and how significant the attrition rate is by those who start the process and those who simply can't afford to finish the process. and so it's been raised that it was a function of compensation. i contend that it's part of this bureaucracy that needs to be cleaned up. mr. chairman, i yield back. >> thank you. mr. waltz, you're recognized. >> thank you, mr. chairman, and thank you to all of you for being here. and to the va, thank you on the -- the clay/hunt bill is near and dear for many in this room, not just those up here but sitting behind you. i appreciate the va not just approaching to fulfill the letter of the law but the firt of the law and for that you should be thanked and i'm grateful. also i think the things that have been spoken by my colleagues talking about veteran
health care in a vacuum outside of health care in general is a problem. therein lies an opportunity. we have an opportunity to find new ways to partner and deliver care and new ways to use best practices to move those things forward. ill will echo what mr. o'rourke, the chairman and the ranking member all said, and if i can add my word to this. it's obvious you have elevated this to the highest level. i think va has to in general. when we see a list of 12 priorities, my suggestion is it better be near the top. that's what my constituents are asking for. in that i'm asking the question, we've been tracking this very closely this legislation and there's no doubt in my mind the willingness to implement is there and it's happening. my question, though, is it seems like the coordination might be something. and, dr. mccarthy, i don't question, i just wonder, and i ask you, do we need to elevate va suicide prevention to the office of the secretary, as we do this, so the coordination is tighter? >> thank you for that question. we are in the process of reorganizing the suicide
prevention office and raising it higher in the organization right now and increasing the number of staff as well as the resources. when we talked about elevating it, at one point we did talk about a separate line item in the budget would effectively elevate it as well. but in any case, what we -- what we very much know is that it needs to report higher in the organization. dod has elevated it to the level of a secretary. i'm not sure that's what we're going to do. dr. caitlin thompson is our suicide prevention coordinator, and we are having her report directly through the undersecretary for health, dr. shulkin, and i think that's an important place given that in that position, she will have the opportunity to reach across the aisle to vba and effectively partner with dod. >> well, i certainly don't want
us to interfere with the organizational structure down to that level but i certainly do want everyone to know that, dr. thompson, i would like you to open up your office door to the secretary on this 21. if that's what it takes to do that that's what we'd like to do. i would segue to the people we are not reaching. you do a wonderful job when we get them in. i think that's what many of the members focused on. "the new york times" focused on clay hunt's unit itself, that unit and the minnesota national guard, clusters. we've got to get better at predicting the clusters. i know it's tough stuff that you're working on. i would ask this, the chairman and the ranking member, all of you look at it from a
coordinated broader perspective but there have been several mentions of the groups trying to get the coordination there team rubicon and jake khan, battle buddy with clay, those folks. i would humbly request that we do something that we bring them in to talk about how they're doing this. getting almost immediate care. that was our vision of the clay hunt. that was the vision of where these groups are at and i know dr. roe brought in the people that operate the tennessee, indiana areas. these people are out there doing it certainly what works for set trains is what works. we have to be evidence based and cost conscience on delivering these but the purpose of the bill was to get that peer to peer out in the community.