Helpline Assists New Jersey Soldiers Returning From Combat
TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Fred H. Madden and Jim Beach that makes permanent a toll-free mental health helpline designed to assist New Jersey’s soldiers once they return home from the battlefield today has been signed into law.
The law makes permanent the “Vet-2-Vet” program, which provides direct counseling services and trains combat veterans to serve as volunteer peer counselors, since they can best understand the strains that veterans feel upon returning home.
“The visions and sounds of war our men and women in uniform experienced on the battlefield do not disappear once they return from service,” said Madden (D-Gloucester, Camden). “Many times we see the physical scars while over looking the mental ones. ‘Vet-2-Vet’ is working to change that by helping our servicemen and women return to civilian life and getting them the assistance they need and deserve.”
“We can never truly repay our troops for the service and dedication they have provided to their country, but we can certainly do our best to give them the help they may need upon coming home,” said Beach (D-Camden). “’Vet-2-Vet’ works, and making it permanent will go a long way towards providing our returning veterans with the counseling and care needed to for them to move beyond combat.”
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey first partnered with the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs six years ago to create the “Vet-2-Vet” program, which managed 3,200 cases in 2009. But the program is only funded on a year-to-year basis.
Most “Vet-2-Vet” callers are soldiers who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and who are dealing with a variety of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, aggression, post-traumatic stress disorder and thoughts of suicide. Others are under stress simply from trying to reintegrate back into their pre-wartime lives.
Since the establishment of the “Vet-2-Vet” program helpline six years ago, there have been no recorded suicides among New Jersey’s National Guard troops deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
Senator Madden was also the sponsor of a 2006 law to expand the scope of counseling services provided by the “Cop-2-Cop” program, a similar program designed to provide peer counseling to police officers. New Jersey’s “Cop-2-Cop” program is the only one of its kind certified by the American Association of Suicidology.