WASHINGTON, DC (March 26, 2014) – Today, on the eve of a historic National Day of Action to combat veteran suicide, post-9/11 veterans from across America met with top White House officials in the Roosevelt Room to discuss the Administration’s efforts to make quality mental health care accessible for vets. The representatives from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) urged President Obama to issue a comprehensive Executive Order focused on streamlining and expediting suicide prevention efforts. Tomorrow, IAVA will announce the details of a new comprehensive bill to combat suicide.
Thirty-two veterans are in Washington for IAVA’s 10th annual Storm the Hill advocacy trip, which is also the launch of its “We’ve Got Your Back: IAVA’s Campaign to Combat Suicide.”
“Combating suicide is the top issue of the new veteran community this year. And we need assurances from the White House that it is a top priority for the President as well. Today’s meeting was a first step toward that goal. And we look forward to working with the White House in the days and weeks ahead,” said IAVA Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff.
“In our conversations with White House staff we asked President Obama to sign a new Executive Order that will make combating troop and veteran suicide a priority for all government agencies. From issuing a Presidential Call to Service for mental health providers, to appointing a National Director of Suicide Prevention, to reviewing and upgrading wrongful military discharges, signing this order will send a signal to our community – as well as to the country – that combating veteran suicide is something that will be addressed with urgency at the highest level. We appreciate the chance to meet with staff and hope to see the Commander-in-Chief lead on this issue before Memorial Day in May,” Rieckhoff added.
Tomorrow IAVA will lead a National Day of Action in Washington. Veterans and supporters from across the nation will share their stories and place American flags on the National Mall to represent each of the estimated 1,892 veterans and servicemembers who have died by suicide so far this year. Press is highly encouraged to attend this powerful event.
IAVA’s 2014 Policy Agenda is a blueprint for combating suicide and is driven by data from member veterans nationwide, partner organizations, and a decade of experience. The Policy Agenda also includes recommendations for keeping the VA on track to end the disability claims backlog by 2015, protecting the Post-9/11 GI Bill, reducing unemployment, and fighting military sexual assault. It contains recommendations for Congress, the White House, the DOD and VA, as well as mayors, governors, business leaders, and philanthropic organizations. The full Policy Agenda can be read here.
Storm the Hill
This week, 32 veteran leaders from nationwide are participating in Storm the Hill, IAVA’s advocacy program that brings the stories of the more than 2.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Washington. The veterans come from 16 states and represent IAVA’s diverse, dynamic and rapidly-growing national membership. All have been affected in some way by suicide, including knowing family and friends who have faced mental health challenges. Throughout the week, they will meet with more than 125 members of Congress, the VA, the Department of Defense and the White House, urging policymakers to adopt IAVA’s recommendations to bridge the gaps in care and ultimately break through the negative stigma that is too often associated with seeking help.
Now in its 10th year, Storm the Hill puts IAVA’s top issue for the year on the map and has jumpstarted historic changes, including the passage of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, advanced funding for health care at the VA, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, and last year, a national focus on the high VA disability claims backlog.
Campaign to Combat Suicide
As part of its Campaign to Combat Suicide, all year long IAVA will activate every element of its membership, programs and partners – both on-the-ground and online. IAVA will incorporate this effort into everything we do from our monthly VetTogethers to our over 500,000-person strong social media community. We will empower our almost 300,000 members and supporters to serve as a ground force for outreach, support and advocacy. And we will travel the country, turning public attention to the issue of veteran suicide and promoting solutions.
IAVA connects veterans to mental health services, including partnering with the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line to ensure that every servicemember, veteran, family member and provider knows that there is free and confidential help available 24 hours a day through phone, text and online. Veterans, or those concerned about veterans, can call 800-273-8255 and press 1 to be directly connected to qualified responders.
Visit IAVA.org to learn more about IAVA’s efforts to combat suicide, Storm the Hill and our 2014 class of Stormers. All week, IAVA will be posting photos, videos and personal stories on social media and with the #StormtheHill and #CombatingSuicide hashtags on Twitter.
Note to media: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or 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 12th year anniversary, IAVA has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided more than 7,300 veterans with personalized support from IAVA’s Master’s level social workers.