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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 received final legislative approval in the Senate 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.

“It is our shared responsibility as a nation to provide our service men and women who are transitioning from the battlefield to civilian life with the necessary support to overcome any psychological or emotional barriers to their healthy return,” said Senator Beach (D-Burlington, Camden). “While the suicide rate among service members rises, it is reckless to reduce the available options to them for help during their times of crisis. New Jersey provided enough funding to continue the peer-led, 24-hour veteran suicide prevention hotline program tor a year, but Congress must act now to restore full funding for such a valuable resource for our veterans.”

“Delivering these important support services to our veterans who give up so much to serve the country is important to help them heal after all the physical, psychological and emotional scars they endure 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 our veterans.”

“Veterans best understand the needs and the mindset of fellow veterans because they endure the same challenges throughout their service careers. The peer-led support system of Vets4Warriors works,” added Senator Madden (D-Camden, Gloucester). “We need to send our veterans a strong message that their lives matter. Congress should restore funding for this successful nationwide program to help reduce the number of suicides among our vets.”

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 by a vote of 39-0 and the Assembly by 76-0. It now heads to the Governor’s desk.

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