Giselle [Stolper, President, MHA-NYC], thank you for those kind words. Good evening, everyone. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and most especially, Ken Fisher, his family, and all the great folks from the Fisher House Foundation:
I am greatly honored to be here to help recognize Ken and his family for their dedication to the men and women who safeguard our Nation--today, and those who performed those duties in years past, like the men who stormed ashore at Normandy, France, sixty-nine years ago today.
Combat demands courage--we know that. But bearing the burdens of combat in the aftermath of war also takes courage. Thanks to advances in battlefield medicine and a world-class military medical evacuation system, more troops are surviving combat today, some with catastrophic injuries, requiring prolonged hospitalization--months and years of surgery, pain, recovery, uncertainty. Any loss of hope can be challenging, and their refusal to give up is both courageous and profound.
For six years now, VA has collaborated with the Mental Health Association of New York's "Linked-2-Health Solutions" to manage our Veterans' Crisis Line. The crisis line has answered over 800,000 calls and responded to more than 100,000 chats and texts from Veterans in need. Most importantly, 29,000 of those callers were rescued from suicides-in-progress because we were there to help.
And so, congratulations, as well, to the Mental Health Association of New York for its many initiatives over many years to care for the Veterans of every great generation, especially today, for those who fought in Iraq and are fighting in Afghanistan.
Because of our work, President Obama's budget requests between 2009 and 2014 increased mental health funding for VA by nearly 57 percent. And this past Monday, the President hosted a national mental health summit at the White House to focus on the need to work together to demystify the issues surrounding mental health, especially overcoming the stigma associated with treatment. As a result:
- VA is partnering at the local level through 24 pilot projects with federally qualified community clinics in nine states;
- We will host local mental health summits at each of our 152 VA medical centers, broadening the dialogue between clinicians and stakeholders;
- And VA has hired over 1,600 additional mental health clinical professionals as outlined in the President's executive order last August.
Let us use these resources and opportunities wisely to address our mental health needs, especially to dispel the stigma surrounding treatment.
You will find few more aware of the needs of our wounded warriors, our Veterans, their families, and our survivors than Ken Fisher. The Fisher House Foundation, which he leads, provides free or low-cost lodging to Veterans and military families at military and VA medical centers, saving them $200 million in food, lodging, and transportation since 1990.
There are currently 60 Fisher Houses in operation, serving over 700 families daily. Remarkably, Ken and the Fisher House Foundation give these houses to the government as gifts!
The foundation also administers the Hero Miles Program and the Heroes Legacy Scholarship Program to help Veterans and the families of those Servicemembers who have died or have been severely disabled since 9/11.
So Ken--thank you for your generous and unwavering advocacy for all who serve and have served our Nation in uniform, their families, and our survivors. On behalf of them all, and the great men and women at VA and DoD who care for them, I am honored to present you with this award. Its inscription reads, "The Mental Health Association-New York City honors Ken Fisher and his family for their commitment to the well-being of our Nation's Veterans, June 6, 2013."