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Federal Funding for Veterans’ Suicide Prevention Hotline Ended August 2015

TRENTON – A resolution sponsored by Senator Jim Beach, Senator Jim Whelan, and Senator Fred H. Madden Jr. urging Congress to restore funding to the Vets4Warriors veteran suicide prevention hotline cleared the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee today.

The Senate Joint Resolution, SJR-85, was introduced in response to the Department of Defense’s decision to terminate funding for the New Jersey veterans’ suicide hotline effective August 15, 2015, without public notice. In response, the state intervened and designated $2.5 million of the $8 million allocated in its FY2016 budget for veterans’ health care specifically to the Vets4Warriors program for one year.

“The transition from the battlefield to civilian life brings its own set of unique challenges for our service members. Providing these men and women who have selflessly served our country with the support they need to overcome any mental health or emotional problems upon their return is our responsibility,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington, Camden). “Decreasing options available to our service members, who are struggling with mental health concerns, while the number of suicides among them rises is simply irresponsible. Although the state has provided funding to bridge the gap for a year, Congress should act with urgency to restore funding to this nationwide 24-hour hotline that serves our veterans during their time of crisis.”

“Meeting our veterans’ needs and delivering these important support services to them is important to help them heal after all the physical, psychological and emotional scars they have endured in combat,” said Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic). “Restoring funding for the Vets4Warriors hotline will allow the continuation of critical services that could prevent the unnecessary and tragic loss of another life to suicide by the men and women who serve our country.”

“Veterans are best positioned to understand the needs and the mindset of fellow veterans because they most likely endured the same challenges throughout their service career. The peer-led support system of Vets4Warriors works,” added Senator Madden (D-Camden, Gloucester). “Congress should restore funding for such a successful nationwide program to help reduce the high number of suicides among our service men and women. After all their sacrifices, this is the least we can do.”

According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report released in February 2013, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, or one every 65 minutes. The study analyzed suicide data from 1999 to 2010, and found that while the percentage of all suicides reported as Veterans has decreased, the number of suicides has increased.

Vets4Warriors, operated by Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care based in Piscataway, New Jersey, is a peer support call center that began in December 2011 to meet the underserved needs of the returning National Guard and Reserve members. Recognizing the difficulties of returning military into civilian life, Vets4Warriors has provided peer support and assistance to active duty service men and women around the world to ensure that troops struggling with depression and other psychological or emotional concerns get the help they need.

Since 2011, the Vets4Warriors program has had over 130,000 contacts with service members and their families, including incoming and follow-up calls and from live chat and email. The program employs 40 veterans and four licensed mental health clinicians.  Ninety-five percent of the Vets4Warriors program peers are veterans. These veterans answer about 500 telephone calls daily, of which nearly 200 involve callers who are at risk for suicide.

The bill cleared the Senate Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee by a vote of 4-0. It now heads to the full Senate for consideration.

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