As this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and Sunday marks the 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us grieve those who have taken their own lives as a result of their service in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.
Every day 18 veterans commit suicide.
Let us commend the Veterans Administration for its invaluable help in preventing suicides of veterans and active duty service. According to VA, as of July 31, 2011, the VA's Crisis Line (800-273-8255) received 462,854 calls. Of those calls, 259,891 were from veterans, and 6,030 were from active duty service members. The VA rescued 16,855 veterans and service members.
I would like to recognize Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth, whose advocacy for veterans and lawsuit against the VA led to the creation of the VA Crisis Line. VCS fought for increasing VA mental health care staff, convinced Congress to provide five years of free care to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans and advocated for the issuance of a shorter disability claim application form. It petitioned the VA and secured "new PTSD regulations based on science" and advocated for the president to send "condolence letters to families of troops who complete suicide in the war zone."
According to a release from Veterans for Common Sense:
Little known are the 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are seeking VA medical care each month. The total number of new patients from the current wars is nearly 700,000.
As of September 2011, about 850,000 veterans are now waiting an average of five months for a disability claim decision from VA. Another 250,000 veterans are waiting an average of four more years for a claim decision appeal.
The VA will be deluged with returning veterans in need of mental health care. In this time of pressure to cut federal spending, we must not only resist cuts to the VA budget. We must increase its budget to enable it to meet the forthcoming demands.
In the words of Paul Sullivan, director of VCS, "This September 11th, let us all pause and remember our wounded, injured, ill, and disabled who pay a very heavy price for defending our Constitution and nation."
As we honor those we have lost, let us commit ourselves to ensuring that veterans and service members who need mental health care receive it.
Follow Leila Levinson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/vets_children