New York, NY (April 11, 2014) — Twenty-two veterans die by suicide in America every day. As Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) continues to call on Congress and the Obama Administration to adopt stronger policies to help prevent veteran suicide, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff will be in Los Angeles April 14-16 to highlight IAVA’s new Campaign to Combat Suicide and push for California’s Congressional delegation to take action.
Rieckhoff’s visit follows the recent launch of IAVA’s Campaign to Combat Suicide during the Storm the Hill advocacy week in Washington. During Storm the Hill, a team of 32 veterans from across the country – including four from Southern California – met with the White House, Congress, the VA and the Pentagon, where they had the chance to share IAVA’s recently released 2014 Policy Agenda for veterans. IAVA veterans met with members of the California Congressional delegation, including Senator Barbara Boxer and Congressman Buck McKeon. Read the 2014 IAVA Policy Agenda here.
Adam Renteria, a local Los Angeles area veteran, is one of the veterans who participated in Storm the Hill. He served five years on active duty as an Infantryman and deployed three times. On his last deployment during the 2003 Invasion, he commanded a M240B heavy machine gun team conducting infantry operations through numerous Iraqi cities. Adam had a difficult transition home. After one year homeless and unemployed, he returned to school. In 2008, Adam founded the CSU Long Beach student veteran organization and began networking with many other OIF/OEF student veterans. After graduating in 2010 he worked for three years as an OIF/OEF homeless veteran case manager at US Vets Long Beach where he mentored transitioning veterans. Using both the Post 9-11 GI Bill and Ch. 31 Voc Rehab, Adam will graduate from USC in May 2014 with a Master of Social Work, specializing in macro level military social work. Adam was accompanied to Washington by a fully certified PTSD service dog, Rakkasan.
“Combating suicide is a bipartisan issue everyone in Washington can work together on, and we are leaning on Los Angeles, with its powerful veterans community, to help make it a priority here and across the state,” said Rieckhoff. “Leaders like Adam show what right looks like, and we encourage Los Angeles to follow his – and the hundreds of other IAVA members in the city – lead on this critical issue.”
As part of the “We’ve Got Your Back: IAVA’s Campaign to Combat Suicide” IAVA is calling on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation expanding mental health care for veterans and ensuring that they have extended access to that care. IAVA is now traveling the country pushing for bipartisan support for The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act (SAV Act) – historic legislation introduced by U.S. Senator John Walsh of Montana, the first Iraq War combat vet to serve in the Senate.
IAVA is also demanding President Obama issue an Executive Order addressing the often problem plagued coordination of records and care between the Department of Defense and the VA and to appoint a National Director of Suicide Prevention.
There are more than 1,857,000 total veterans in California, including more than 237,000 who served in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Los Angeles veterans face a number of critical challenges. In California, as well as across the country, suicide is a top concern for new veterans: at least 22 veterans commit suicide every day, and a recent study found that the suicide rate among young male veterans rose by 44 percent in the past three years.
More than 337,000 veterans are stuck in the VA backlog nationwide, including more than 10,000 in the Los Angeles regional office, who are waiting more than 125 days for a claim. The average wait time here is 176.4 days. California post-9/11 veterans also face a 7.7% unemployment rate.
In January, IAVA announced the expansion of its innovative veterans assistance program, the Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP), across California. RRRP is a new approach to supporting post-9/11 veterans by directly connecting them and their families to local resources and to one-on-one support with IAVA’s Veteran Transition Managers. RRRP helps cut through red tape and provides California post-9/11 veterans and their families with access to services ranging across employment, education, housing, mental health and more.
Veterans can contact a California RRRP case manager by calling 855-91-RAPID (855-917-2743), emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting www.IAVA.org/RRRP.
Note to media: Email email@example.com or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA leadership.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. As a non-profit founded in 2004, IAVA’s mission is to connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans. Celebrating its 15th anniversary, IAVA has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided more than 8,000 veterans with personalized support from IAVA’s Master’s level social workers.