TRENTON – U.S. Reps. Rush Holt, (D-NJ), and Jon Runyan, (R-NJ), led a bipartisan push Tuesday for continued federal funding to prevent the increasing epidemic of military suicides.
Standing at the World War II memorial across from the Statehouse here the congressmen called for the House Appropriations Committee to provide $40 million for prevention and outreach in fiscal year 2014.
One active duty member per day and approximately 22 veterans a day kill themselves, according to Christopher Kosseff, president and CEO of University Behavioral HealthCare of UMDNJ and the administrator of the peer counseling program Vets4Warriors.
The issue hits home for the New Jersey congressmen. Linda Bean, of East Brunswick, whose son Sgt. Coleman Bean, took his own life five years ago this week, became along with her husband tireless advocates for military suicide prevention efforts after that tragedy.
“They are my daily inspiration for continuing this work,’’ Holt said of the Bean family.
Holt and Runyan were seeking to publicize the need for inclusion of the money – $20 million each for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense – because it is not automatically part of some appropriations bill but is handled annually through a resolution or amendment, the first such being accomplished in 2011.
The congressmen said that approximately 100 of their colleagues have signed a letter urging the money be included this coming fiscal year.
Other N.J. congressmen who have so far signed the letter include Reps. Frank LoBiondo, Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone Jr. and Donald Payne Jr.
Raising awareness of the issue is important, Runyan said. “This is an unfortunate result of the sacrifices these men and women have made,” he said.
According to Holt, America is on track again this year to have more casualties by suicide than by enemy action.
For such a reason, he said, merely putting help signs on the sides of buses is not enough. The military needs to take a stronger role in active outreach.
In the past 16 months, according to Kosseff, the peer to peer program has received 32,000 calls. The program provides confidential counseling 24/7 for military personnel.
The cost of that $40 million, he said, breaks down to approximately $4 per service member per year, most of which goes to train counselors for a problem that is on the rise.
For example, Coleman Bean, said Holt, “set out to be the ideal soldier.’’
But following his second tour of duty in Iraq, he took his own life, and that turned his parents into advocates for the kind of program that might have been able to help him had it been around then.
Linda Bean thanked the congressmen for their patience “every time I get frustrated, angry and outraged,” with the pace of the bureaucracy and the military.
“Soldiers, veterans and their families need this program,’’ she said.
Kosseff said, “These are people who we count on, people who we love.”
The program, whose number is 1-855-VET-TALK, can provide support for months and prevent a problem from escalating into a crisis, he said.
Runyan said that “This shouldn’t be a heavy lift’’ to obtain the funding, and Holt said they have twice the number of co-signers of a year ago, but they emphasized the need for a public awareness effort so people understand how widespread the problem of military suicides already is.
And it figures to worsen as more soldiers come home as actions overseas wind down, they said.