Our veterans have honorably served the nation, endangering their lives to protect our freedom and liberties. It is because of that we gather as a community to give them the hero's welcome they deserve. It is also the reason we should do whatever we can to recognize and help those South Jersey wounded warriors in need of assistance.
June is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month and a recent report starkly outlined the personal challenges some of our servicemen and women are facing upon returning from the battlefield, particularly with regards to PTSD and suicidal thoughts. With an average of one suicide daily of U.S. military personnel, there is growing urgency to ensure veterans and troops in need receive the appropriate mental health care. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has launched a new online campaign focused on recognizing the symptoms and motivating our local heroes to seek treatment. The AboutFace (www.ptsd.va.gov/aboutface) program uses real-life testimonials of veterans who have experienced PTSD and successfully integrated back into their community while directing users to available mental health resources.
Recently, the House passed the annual appropriations for the VA which included a $35 million increase specifically for PTSD programs. Since 2009, the VA has received a 39 percent increase in its mental health care budget. I was proud to support these increases along with additional funding for PTSD and suicide prevention programs at the Defense Department for our active duty military. Providing sufficient federal funding to hire and retain mental health staff, however, simply isn't enough. We need to engage in innovative initiatives that reach distressed service members and veterans before they reach the point of attempting suicide. We need to help them identify the signs of PTSD before they cause harm to themselves or others.
Mental health is but one challenge facing returning and recently-disconnected service members. The lack of employment opportunities coupled with the difficulty in translating military training into workplace skills can often be discouraging and create anxiety. National programs such as Helmets to Hardhats (www.helmetstohardhats.org/) and the federal "Veterans Employment Initiative -- Careers in Motion" (www.dot.gov/careers/vo.html) assist in transitioning from combat to careers in various fields including construction, transportation, aviation and engineering.
Additionally, on July 30th, the Richard Stockton College will again host a veterans' resource and jobs fair that brings together area veterans with employers and advocacy organizations. The "Hiring Our Heroes" event is yet another opportunity to help South Jersey residents with military backgrounds begin their next career. More information is available at www.aclink.org/Veterans.
It is important for South Jersey veterans and military families to know that help is available to them as the VA, various organizations throughout our region and my office stand ready to assist. Veterans needing to speak with a mental health professional should contact one of the four community-based outpatient clinics in Cape May, Northfield, Sewell or Vineland or the VA Wilmington Medical Center. The VA also manages a toll-free number (1-800-273-8255), a text message option (838255) and a confidential online chat (www.VeteransCrisisLine.net) with qualified care professionals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
If there is a question or concern about VA services, please contact my Mays Landing office by calling 1-800-471-4450 or 609-625-5008. Additional information on employment resources and local services for South Jersey veterans are available on my website at www.lobiondo.house.gov/resources/veterans. Our active duty military personnel and veterans have stood up in defense of our nation and each of us; it is our obligation to do the same for them.