TRENTON – A measure sponsored by Senators Fred H. Madden and Jim Beach which would statutorily ensure the continuation of a toll-free mental health helpline designed to assist New Jersey’s soldiers once they return home from the battlefield was unanimously approved today by the Senate Military and Veterans Affairs panel.
“The wounds suffered on the battlefield are not always visible. Too often, our men and women in uniform return home from war with mental scars, that if left untreated can prove to be just as harmful as physical scars,” said Senator Madden, D-Camden and Gloucester. “This line is helping returning troops reintegrate themselves into civilian life, and this bill would ensure that the program is made permanent, thereby ensuring that the veterans who need help are able to get it.”
“There are certain traumatic events that can only be understood by people who have shared a common experience,” said Senator Beach, D-Camden, who chairs the Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This program has proven to work, and we owe it to the men and women who have risked their lives protecting our freedoms, to ensure that they are able to receive the best possible counseling and care to help them work through their post-war stress.”
The Senators’ bill, S-1731, would make permanent the Vet-2-Vet program, which provides counseling services, and also trains combat veterans to serve as volunteer peer counselors, since they can best understand the strains that veterans feel upon returning home.
The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) first partnered with the State’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMAVA) five years ago to create the Vet-2-Vet program, which managed 3,200 cases in 2009. The program is only funded by the programs 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 five 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.
“At the end of the day, the majority of soldiers would feel most comfortable sharing their problems with another soldier. We want to make sure that the soldiers who need help are willing to step forward to do so, and by ensuring the permanence of this program we would be helping them do just that,” the Senators said.
This measure now heads to the full Senate for approval.