For Immediate Release
Contact: Miles Migliara
National Communications Manager
AMVETS (American Veterans)
AMVETS National Headquarters, September 10, 2019 – AMVETS set the tone of the Congress this year by emphasizing the key issue affecting our veterans and service members: the mental health and suicide epidemic.
In compelling testimony delivered in March, AMVETS Past National Commander Rege Riley discussed his personal story with regards to a member of AMVETS who had died by suicide in a parking a lot. AMVETS asked Congress to prioritize veteran suicide by creating a bicameral taskforce that combined would hold an event at least once every month to evaluate the programs and methods currently funded at VA, their long-term effects and outcomes in helping veterans live high quality lives, while also considering any alternative approaches that are leading to positive outcomes by mitigating negative symptoms, creating notable improvements in quality of life and, ultimately, stemming the suicide epidemic.
We proposed a quarterly hearing to attack our veterans’ mental health epidemic and, by extension, possibly our Nation’s mental health problems.
Soon after, veterans dying by suicide garnered national press and House of Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Takano described the average 22 daily veteran suicides as “a national crisis.” He promised the public that he would prioritize and attack veteran suicide. A number of hearings were scheduled and no shortage of social media and press attempts were made to highlight his championing of the effort. Unfortunately, as they say in the west, these statements have largely been all hat, no cattle.
In comparison, there have been few statements in the Senate, but much more engagement in actually finding solutions to the suicide epidemic. AMVETS has been highly engaged with Senators Isakson, Boozman, Tester, Moran, their staffs, and others in discussing and identifying ways to help veterans attack this issue. Similarly, we have worked closely with the Democratic members from the House Mil/Con committee working on solutions. These staff have had open doors, been honest about their concerns, and have spent significant time engaging veteran groups, traveling to programs across the country that may offer solutions, and then crafting meaningful legislation to address the myriad of issues that are taking the lives of more than 6,000 veterans and servicemembers every year.
And the numbers of suicides are growing. The Air Force alone has recorded 79 deaths this year, nearly twice as many compared to this time last year and officials fear 2019 could be the deadliest in history.
“I think we can all agree how important it is to take care of our veterans which is why I have made ending veteran suicide my number one priority,” stated Chairman Takano.
We are about to close out the year, with what appears to be zero game-changing legislation addressing this epidemic.
AMVETS agrees that this is a national crisis, and that it has been long before garnering national press. Now it is time to consider meaningful legislation in order to pass something by Veterans Day this year. A bill that will directly address this issue is the bi-partisan legislation H.R. 3495, introduced by Republican Representative and Marine Corps veteran Jack Bergman and Democratic Representative and Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan, which would direct the VA to create a grant program to better coordinate with – and provide funding for – nonprofit and community suicide prevention resources.
The VA used a similar approach in combatting homelessness. They successfully partnered with community groups to prevent Veteran homelessness. This approach resulted in three states and 77 communities effectively ending homelessness. We are optimistic, that this approach will allow local communities to identify and support programs that are making a change in their communities, empowering organizations that are making a meaningful difference across the Nation, increase the mental health of our veterans, and most importantly reduce suicide amongst veterans and servicemembers.
The time to put words into action is today.
AMVETS, which is also known as American Veterans, is the most inclusive Congressionally-chartered veterans service organization open to representing the interests of 20 million veterans and their families. We are veterans serving veterans since 1944.