Just some things our friend Paul Rieckoff and IAVA have been up to.
Each year, approximately 115,300 veterans attempt suicide. That's nearly one in five suicide attempts nationwide.
In May, IAVA worked with Representative Jim Moran of Virginia and endorsed the 'Veterans Suicide Prevention Hotline Act of 2007'. Hearing the demand, Congress pushed The Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a resource for veterans in crisis.
On Monday, the VA responded by announcing a new national suicide prevention hotline for veterans. The toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255), is always open, and is staffed by mental health professionals.1
Since 2002, one-third of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have sought VA health care. And according to the VA, 37 percent of the possible diagnoses were for mental health disorders. Accordingly, IAVA decided to make Mental Health one of the four Key Areas of our 2007 Legislative Agenda. Now, that focus is paying off.
Over the past several months, IAVA Legislative Director Patrick Campbell has led our DC office in working with Congressman Michaud on issues relating to mental health care and homelessness among veterans.
On Monday, the House passed the 'Veterans' Health Care Improvement Act of 2007,' a bill authored by Representative Michaud.2 The bill mandates the VA provide improved mental healthcare outreach and services to returning servicemembers. It also expands counseling services to veterans at risk of homelessness, and provides housing assistance to veterans in dire financial need.
Two weeks ago, we told you the story of Specialist Jon Town, who was injured in Iraq when a rocket exploded a few feet from his head. Like 22,000 other servicemen and women since 2001, Jon Town was separated from the military for what was deemed a pre-existing 'personality disorder.' That means the Army has decided that Spc. Town's medical problems existed before his military service. Consequently, they avoid having to pay for his medical care.
IAVA helped to bring Jon Town's story into the public spotlight, and to keep it in the media. This month, it was featured on ABC.
Last Wednesday, Jon Town told his story to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, as part of a hearing called "PTSD and Personality Disorders: Challenges for the VA." Now, bills have been introduced in the House3 and the Senate4 that will put a temporary moratorium on these discharges until the process undergoes a thorough review.
See? Things CAN get done in DC.