Veterans peer support program bill clears committee

Linda Bean, mother of U.S. Army Sgt. Coleman Samuel Bean, who committed suicide in September 2006, said both she and her husband know all too well how crucial Veteran to Veteran Peer Support Programs are to soldiers.

This is why she and members of the New Jersey Department of Military and Veteran’s Affairs and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey have partnered to see fiscal appropriations for bill S1731/A2616 before another soldier like her son goes unheard in their most desperate time of need.

The bill – the Veteran to Veteran Peer Support Program (Vet2Vet) – was released by the committee Thursday morning.

Citing grave statistics, Bean told members of the committee how in 2009 and 2010 the U.S. military lost more soldiers to suicide than combat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“These long wars have  ground away at America’s fighting forces and their families. They left our soldiers and veterans with devastating wounds, both visible and invisible,” said Bean, adding the numbers prove how the Departments of Defense and Veteran’s Affairs are limited in their ability to implement timely and effective mental-health programs.

The six-year program is a top priority to two-tour Vietnam veteran Chuck Arnold, who is the UMDNJ Program Coordinator. Speaking openly about his own return from Vietnam, Arnold said, “It took me two years of drinking heavily and really struggling in my life,” adding the mission of the program now is to see, “No veteran come back from a combat zone and not get the help he needs.”

The first established phone line has been set up in Fort Worth, Texas, said Arnold, whose vision is to see phone lines set up in all 50 states. “Veterans are the most qualified to speak to other veterans in need. We have a language that veterans and veteran wives can understand,” he said.

According to Bean, the battle for peace of mind begins when the soldiers land safely home. “Many come home to cities and towns that welcome them with open arms and hearts, but do not understand them,” she said. “They come home to families who love them, but do not understand them.”

Saying how she was unaware of the support program prior to her son’s death, Bean said she has asked herself more than once if the helpline would have saved her son’s life.

Committee Chair and Senator Jack Connors (D-7) thanked Bean for her courage, saying he is sure her son would be proud of her efforts.

Veterans peer support program bill clears committee