A retired Recon Marine with eight Afghanistan deployments who also battled PTSD called for the Biden administration to actively partner with faith-based veterans’ mental health programs and organizations, after a Veterans Affairs official was pressed on the issue during a hearing.
Chad Robichaux, founder of the Mighty Oaks Foundation – which provides faith-based programs to combat psychological and emotional challenges of veterans returning home – told Fox News Digital he was outraged by the answers he heard in the House VA Subcommittee on Health hearing this week.
During the hearing, Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis. – a retired Navy SEAL himself — invoked Robichaux’s foundation while questioning Dr. Tamara Campbell, executive director of the Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention.
Van Orden asked Campbell whether her office is “preventing veterans from committing suicide or not.”
“Or are we just spending money and hiring people so that they can get together, come to these committee meetings, talk a bunch, submit reports, with metrics that can’t be defined?” he asked.
Campbell said her department is “moving the needle on this” and must have a “full public health approach where suicide prevention is concerned.”
Van Orden further asked how many “faith-based non-evidence programs” the VA is currently administering to veterans seeking their help and what her office’s “metrics for success” are.
“Within VA, we certainly value scientifically-based-evidence-based programs. That does not mean, however, that we don’t collaborate with our chaplain services…” Campbell replied.
Van Orden said Campbell’s response suggested the department is not actively working with “wildly successful” programs “because they are faith-based – which according to you guys are ‘non-evidence-based’.”
“Living veterans: That’s evidence of a program’s functioning,” Van Orden said, going on to reference Robichaux’s organization. Campbell added the department would, however, be willing to meet with Mighty Oaks to discuss a potential partnership.
In response, Robichaux told Fox News he was thankful for Van Orden’s questioning, saying he hopes the VA will keep its word and reach out to his group.
Robichaux, who also co-founded the Save Our Allies organization that was instrumental in rescuing Fox News correspondent Benjamin Hall from Ukraine, claimed the VA “cherry-picked data” in its report and wrongly excluded overdoses, at least at the present time.
“The American taxpayer is funding a one-solution system for the mental health and suicide epidemic for our warriors, and it is a pharmaceutical one. And it is failing,” Robichaux said.
He criticized U.S. aid to Afghanistan that he suggested is simply landing in the hands of the Taliban.
“Meanwhile we are giving … $113 billion to corruption in Ukraine, [without] congressional oversight. With just one of those billion [dollars], faith-based VSOs could nearly eradicate this crisis amongst our military community,” Robichaux argued.
Robichaux told Fox News the Obama administration previously removed funding for faith-and community-based programs through a 2009 executive order, while adding he formally asked then-candidate Donald Trump in 2015 to overturn the order.
“The truth is PTSD, and trauma are typically spiritual wounds to the human soul, and a spiritual wound requires a spiritual solution found through a relationship with God,” he said. “We cannot take this away from our warriors and expect them to heal…”
Trump reportedly agreed to Robichaux’s request, and weeks before his administration ended, the VA proposed a rule removing regulatory barriers ushering in “equal treatment” between religious and non-religious organizations in VA-supported social service programs.
Robichaux told Fox News he will continue to work with organizations inside and outside of government that are “willing do our part to end this horrific epidemic among our nations heroes.”
Robichaux argued Mighty Oaks’ has thousands of success stories and “third-party independent data” showed it to be an “evidence-based” program despite the use of the moniker during Campbell’s hearing.
In response to the hearing’s testimony, Van Orden told Fox News as a retired SEAL who has lost friends to suicide, he feels the VA must take an “all of the above approach to help prevent this scourge.”
“I am sick and tired of this bureaucracy refusing to acknowledge that what they call ‘non-evidence based’ treatment programs have actually shown solid evidence of saving the lives of my fellow veterans, particularly faith-based programs,” he said.
Van Orden added the VA’s Office of Mental Health & Suicide Prevention has been in existence for three decades, positing he would have “no idea, if they closed tomorrow, if a single veteran’s life would be saved.”
In response to some of the criticism, the VA said in a lengthy statement to Fox News Digital that the department stops “at nothing to get Veterans who live with substance use disorder the help they need and deserve.”
“VA offers a comprehensive continuum of specialty substance use disorder (SUD) services for Veterans, not just medication-based treatment. This continuum of care includes specialty SUD treatment outpatient and residential programs.”
In response to the concern regarding whether overdose-suicide deaths were included in the report at hand, the department said its National Suicide Prevention Annual Report includes overdoses deemed to be suicides.
“The purpose of the report is to count every veteran suicide so we can prevent every veteran suicide. Ending veteran suicide and saving lives is our top clinical priority at VA, and we take every step possible to make sure that our veteran suicide data is accurate—because the first step to solving this problem is understanding it,” the department said.
“In the interest of full transparency, we release yearly reports detailing how we come to the conclusions in the Annual Suicide Prevention Report.”
In response to criticism of the perception it weighs pharmaceutical-based resources over others, the VA also said its work has positioned it to “respond to emerging drug use trends” and that the substance abuse epidemic is a paramount concern for its patents and veterans writ-large.
Outside of pharmacological assistance, the VA told Fox News it recently hired “peer specialists” to work with veterans suffering from addiction with the goal of increasing engagement and retention of an array of treatment options.
The department’s latest budget allocated for expanded residential program access, additional homeless veteran case managers and expanded access to employment support for veterans-in-treatment or recovery, the VA told Fox News Digital.
Regarding the state of the 2020 faith-based organizations “equal treatment” rule proposed under the Trump administration, the VA pointed Fox News Digital to a January 2023 proposal by the Biden-Harris VA “restoring protections for beneficiaries of federally funded social services.”
According to the release, nine agencies, including Veterans Affairs, are party to a proposal to “further advance President Biden’s call for religious freedom and equity,” which included a stipulation to “continue to notify such [faith-based providers of federally-funded social services] they are equally eligible to compete with other organizations” for grants.