In a press conference today at the New Jersey World War II Memorial, U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan (NJ-03) and U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) announced their bipartisan call to the U.S. House Appropriations Committee urging that the committee provide $40 million for military and veteran suicide prevention and outreach in fiscal year 2014.
If appropriated, the funds -- which would include $20 million to prevent suicide among current servicemembers and $20 million to prevent suicide among veterans -- would represent a continuation of federal support that Runyan and Holt first secured in 2011.
"The men and women who put their lives on the line to defend our country deserve our complete support while on the battlefield and when they return home," Runyan said. "As the number of suicides among U.S. military personnel continues to rise, it is imperative that we do everything we can to reach out and let them know about the resources that are available to them. One servicemember or veteran who takes their own life is one too many. As a country, we have to show our military personnel that we truly care about them by making life saving resources available and accessible."
"The epidemic of suicides among our veterans is measureable in very grim numbers," Holt said. "Before this day is out, if it is like every other day, 18 more veterans will have taken their own lives. Congress has begun to take this crisis seriously over the past few years, but we must continue providing the funding and support necessary to help keep our soldiers and veterans alive."
"We face a daunting problem with the suffering and suicides of our servicemembers and veterans," said Christopher Kosseff, President and CEO of University Behavioral HealthCare of UMDNJ and the administrator of the Vets4Warriors peer counseling service, which connects veterans who are struggling with depression and suicide to peer counselors. "Thanks to the tireless efforts of Reps. Holt and Runyan, and their colleagues in Congress, we have a chance to make a real difference. Because of them, our veterans can have immediate access to the support and services of those who truly understand -- the veteran peer counselors. Vets4Warriors is a crucial component in the array of services for our servicemembers and veterans."
"Soldiers promise to never leave a fallen comrade," said Linda Bean, the mother of the late Sergeant Coleman S. Bean, an East Brunswick resident who died by suicide after serving in Iraq. "Those are powerful words. We are grateful every day to the men and women at Vets4Warriors who make real that promise -- one phone call at a time. These long wars have ground away at our soldiers, our veterans and our military families, straining them well beyond what we have the right to ask. We are grateful to Rep. Holt and Rep. Runyan, who have kept the faith when others have forgotten or turned away from more than a decade of devastating injuries."
Bean added, "We need this program -- soldiers and veterans and their families deserve this program. We need to assure that it is fully funded, vigorously marketed and expanded. It complements the suicide hotline operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. It stands as a spectacular example of a civilian response to a military need and -- most critical -- it saves lives."
"Suicides among Army personnel continue to rise," said John Madigan, Senior Director of Public Policy for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. "It is imperative that our nation mobilize to reduce suicide including conducting important outreach to our military personnel, veterans and their families on the resources available. Many thanks to Representatives Holt and Runyan for their continued leadership on this important issue."
Runyan and Holt made their request for renewed federal funding in a letter to the U.S. House Appropriations Committee that was signed by 99 members of Congress. The full text of the letter follows below.
Dear Chairman Young, Ranking Member Visclosky, Chairman Culberson and Ranking Member Bishop:
As you may recall, the Fiscal Year 2012 DoD and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bills that were signed into law cumulatively increased funding for suicide prevention and outreach for our Guard and Reserve forces by a total of $40 million--$20 million per bill. The same was the case for the Fiscal Year 2013 Consolidated and Full-Year Continuing Resolution (P. L. 113-6). We ask that you work to ensure that the relevant Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bills include $40 million for suicide prevention and outreach programs.
We recognize that you must balance a number of competing interests and requirements as you prepare the final appropriations vehicles for the coming fiscal year. However, we know you both share our deep concern about the ongoing suicide epidemic among our veteran population. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit noted in 2011, the VA has acknowledged that an estimated 18 veterans complete suicide every day--over 6500 every year. We lose more veterans to suicide every year than we do to hostile fire or enemy action, and by a huge margin.
We believe we have it within our power to dramatically reduce the number of such deaths. Providing funding for programs like New Jersey's Vets4Warriors program, which is the National Guard Bureau's highly successful national counseling and suicide prevention peer-to-peer outreach program, will help save lives. Continuing support for such programs is vital in bringing down the number of suicides among our servicemembers. Accordingly, we ask that you include $40 million for suicide prevention and outreach in the relevant Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bills.
Our thanks to you both for your long and distinguished service to the House and our nation.