Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva today said he is proud to stand with the departments of Defense (DOD) and Veterans Affairs (VA) in recognizing September as Suicide Prevention Month and raising awareness about the challenges veterans face.
The number of active-duty suicides this year has surpassed the number of combat deaths, according to a New York Times article. Suicide prevention is now one of the Pentagon’s top priorities, according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. As Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki recently said, “History shows that the costs of war will continue to grow for a decade or more after the wars have ended.”
This long-term cost had led to an increase in education and awareness programs like “Stand by Them” and “Side by Side,” both aimed at informing veterans’ families and communities about recognizing suicide warning signs. VA officials have increased crisis help line employees by 50 percent and recently hired 1,600 new mental health professionals and 300 support staff.
Rep. Grijalva is an original co-sponsor of the Service Members Mental Health Screening Act – formally titled HR 1942 – which mandates regular mental health screenings for all service personnel and allows the Secretary of Defense to order a service member eligible for retirement to retire due to mental health circumstances.
In conjunction with new VA and DOD efforts to promote mental health and prevent suicides, President Obama issued an Executive Order on August 31 designed to help eliminate veteran homelessness by 2015. The VA recently approved a $28 million series of nationwide grants to establish new facilities for homeless veterans. The funds will support 38 projects in 25 states, including a $480,000 grant to the UMOM New Day Center in Phoenix.
As part of the process of eliminating veteran homelessness, the Supportive Services for Veterans Families (SSVF) Program has asked for involved groups to submit a letter of interest for Fiscal Year 2013. The VA program, which awards grants to private non-profit organizations and consumer cooperatives who provide supportive services to very low-income veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing, is gauging public interest in following up on its successful first 10 months of operation, during which it served 28,000 veterans and their families. To learn more, visit http://www.va.gov/homeless/ssvf.asp.
The new efforts to help veterans come as Senate conservatives filibustered a bill that would have created a new Veterans Job Corps to hire out-of-work veterans in law enforcement, fire safety and other areas that benefit from military experience. According to National Journal, the filibuster– which stymied the bill despite it having 58 senators in support and 40 in opposition – “was the latest in a string of obstacles designed to derail the bill, which would have created the Veterans Jobs Corps by setting aside $1 billion in federal grants to give veterans priority for jobs that might require military skills[.]”
“These are important steps to take to honor the service of our men and women in uniform,” Grijalva said. “They have risked their lives and left their families to do their duty, and federal leaders should what we can to help them when they return home. Jobs for returning soldiers shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”