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Combating Suicide Top Issue for New Veterans in 2014

WASHINGTON DC (March 12, 2014) – The nation must do more to combat veteran suicide, the top issue this year for post-9/11 veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff will testify today at a special joint hearing of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs. Joining Rieckhoff at the hearing are IAVA members and supporters.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) estimates that 22 veterans die by suicide each day. In IAVA’s 2014 Member Survey, over 47 percent of our respondents said they knew a veteran who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan who had attempted suicide. IAVA will announce priorities and recommendations to combat suicide the week of March 24 during its Storm the Hill advocacy.

A full copy of Rieckhoff’s testimony can be found here.

“The issue of suicide in the military and veterans’ community will be a tough conversation to have for many Americans in the coming days, weeks and months. But IAVA is up for the challenge and is committed to combatting servicemember and veteran suicide after knowing far too well how horrible suicide is for families, friends and loved ones,” Rieckhoff said. “IAVA is committed to ensuring that Congress and the nation will produce proactive and robust solutions to bridge the gaps in care, and ultimately break through the negative stigma that is too often associated with seeking help. If there is one thing that research tells us, it is that seeking help works.”

In addition to advocating for strong mental health policies, IAVA connects veterans to mental health services through its Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP), IAVA’s case management and referral services program. Started in New York City, IAVA expanded the innovative program to California earlier this year and today in Albany is announcing its expansion across New York State. IAVA also partners with the 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.

At today’s testimony, Rieckhoff is also calling on Congress to address additional, unmet priorities for IAVA members. Pointing to gridlock in Washington that resulted in inaction on a number of issues, Rieckhoff will call for bipartisan action to provide additional advance funding for the VA, keep the VA on track to bring the disability claims backlog to zero, strengthen the New GI Bill, and combat military sexual assault.

“In the last year, our members and the veterans community have been under attack and Congress has left critical, bipartisan reforms on the table,” Rieckhoff said. “Caring for the men and women who have defended freedom is a solemn responsibility that belongs to policymakers, business leaders and citizens alike. Our warriors continue fighting different types of battles long after our wars are over and we must continue our fight for them and their families.”

Rieckhoff’s testimony comes at a time when Washington dysfunction has stood in the way of Congressional action on a number of priorities.

Last month, the Military Justice Improvement Act – a critical reform to combat military sexual assault – failed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate. The bill would have put decisions of whether to move cases involving serious crimes to a court martial in the hands of experienced military prosecutors, establishing a more impartial justice system that would have balanced aggressive prosecution with the rights of the accused. The failure came after the transformational Veterans Omnibus Bill (S.1982) was blocked in the Senate a week earlier. Servicemembers and veterans have also faced attacks and cuts on their retirement benefits and other military benefits, like housing and commissary support.

To advance IAVA’s public policies, including combating suicide, IAVA will be holding Storm the Hill March 22-28. Storm the Hill is IAVA’s signature advocacy and leadership development program that brings the stories of the more than 2.5 million veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan to Washington.

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