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More Soldiers Lost to Suicide than to Al Qaeda in January: Iraq Veterans Storm the Hill

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Last month, suicide took the lives of more American soldiers than Al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency combined.

According to preliminary numbers, as many as 24 soldiers killed themselves in January. That's almost five times as many suicides as the same month last year. News of this shocking spike in suicides comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following this issue. 2008 marked the highest rate of military suicide in decades, and suicide rates have been rising every year since the start of the Iraq war.

It's clear that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking a tremendous toll on our troops, our veterans and their families. And suicide isn't the only challenge we're facing. Seven years of war have taken their toll on our military families, especially military marriages. Divorce rates among female servicemembers are especially alarming. Unemployment rates are up in general, but new veterans are being hit especially hard. Among Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans of the active-duty military, the unemployment rate was over eight percent in 2007, about 2 percent higher than their civilian peers. And already, at least 2,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have shown up in one of our nation's homeless shelters.

It is time for bold and immediate action.

That's why I'm leading a delegation of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from across the country to Washington, DC this week to educate our nation's leaders on the most pressing issues facing today's troops and veterans. We hit the ground running with a congressional briefing in the Capitol, and we'll be meeting with over 100 legislators' offices throughout the week.

Each day, we'll be reporting live from DC, so follow us at www.StormtheHill.org.

We'll be hitting all the top points in our Legislative Agenda, including better screening for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury, a stronger veterans' component in the stimulus package, and correct implementation of the historic new GI Bill. And we're also making sure that the stimulus package includes a robust veterans component. But the top issue we're tackling is the need for advance funding for veterans' hospitals.

What does advance funding mean? Year after year, the VA budget is passed late, forcing the largest health care provider in the nation to ration care. Hospitals cannot plan for needed repairs, or be sure when they'll have the funding to hire new employees. It's a real problem for veterans across the country of all generations, who have to rely on aging and understaffed hospitals. One veteran on my team today told a staffer that she has to wait an hour at her local VA just to park her car. Without advance funding, this is what can happen. It is like trying to plan for your family's budget without knowing how much your next paycheck will be for. Funding the VA health care budget one year in advance would put an end to the broken VA funding system, and it wouldn't cost a dime. If advanced funding is good enough for Big Bird and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, it should be good enough for veterans.

Sounds like a no brainer, right? I'd agree with you anywhere but on Capitol Hill, where common sense solutions go to die. But I'm optimistic. We've got the support of all the major veterans' service organizations, and a lot of support in Congress. We're going to make sure this easy, crucial fix moves this year.

We're bringing the largest IAVA delegation to Capitol Hill in our organization's history, and the week promises to be exciting. Don't miss out on the action. Our delegation is counting on your support.

Crossposted at IAVA.org.

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