Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senator Jim Beach, Senator Dawn Addiego, Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Assemblyman Troy Singleton, Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg, officials running the Vets4Warriors program at Rutgers and the Burlington County Military Affairs Committee met on Wednesday to highlight the use of $8 million in special funding added to the state budget for veterans’ services, including money that will keep the Vets4Warriors program operating.
The Legislature and the governor worked together to fund the suicide prevention program operated by Rutgers when federal government announced it was going to discontinue its support by Friday. The special funding provides the money needed to keep Vets4Warriors operating and for other veterans’ services, including health care.
“For veterans struggling with the return to civilian life, having a strong and accessible peer support network can be the difference between life and death,” said Senator Addiego. “The Vets4Warriors program ensures that our returning heroes are never alone in their times of need.”
According to a Department of Veterans Affairs report released in 2013, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, or one every 65 minutes.
“As Americans, elected officials or not, it is our responsibility to honor the service of the men and women of the armed forces who have served and sacrificed for our country by providing them with the care and treatment they need when they return home with wounds of any type,” said Senator Sweeney. “The suicide rate for American veterans is tragically high. The Vets4Warriors program here in New Jersey has been successful by connecting veterans in need with fellow veterans who can respond with a better understanding of the experiences unique to military life. We have to keep this service available to them.”
“The transition from the battlefield to civilian life represents unique challenges for many men and women in our service. This is why it is important that we provide them with any support and assistance they need,” said Senator Beach. “If they are struggling with depression or other psychological or emotional problems it is vital that help is readily accessible.”
Operating since 2011, the Vets4Warriors program has had over 130,000 contacts with service members and their families. The program employs 40 veterans and four licensed mental health clinicians. The peer helpline offers easy access via a toll free number, email and live chat via its website. All calls are answered by a Veteran peer within 20 seconds, utilizing sophisticated technology. Ninety-five percent of the Vets4Warriors program peers are veterans.
“We are deeply indebted to our Governor, Senate President Sweeney and the New Jersey legislators for their support of Vets4Warriors. Through their actions, Vets4Warriors will continue as an important source of support to our military service members, veterans and their families across the country” said Christopher Kosseff, president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care. “Vets4Warriors provides a unique form of support that helps prevent problems from becoming crises. Available 24/7, this program employs only veterans and carefully trains them to be peer counselors.”
The U.S. Department of Defense announced the discontinuation of funding with little notice, prompting the action by New Jersey officials.
In addition to the Vets4Warriors program, the funds will be used to improve access to and quality of care for veterans in New Jersey. It will create a competitive grant program open to health care facilities to ensure that veterans have prompt access to needed primary care, health screenings and other care, regardless of insurance status. It will also expand the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs’ successful Veteran’s Haven program to provide access to services for homeless veterans.