An emerging veterans group plans to descend on Capital Hill this week to demand new action on veterans issues and launch a national campaign to combat suicide among former troops.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has named veteran-suicide prevention as its top priority for 2014. On Monday, the group will send 31 representatives to discuss mental health challenges with members of Congress and President Obama.
Participants will call for new legislation and executive orders that could strengthen access to mental-health services and improve coordination between government agencies, according to an announcement from the group.
Suicide is a rapidly growing problem within the veteran community. A VA study released last year found that 22 veterans on average commit suicide every day, and more than 47 percent of the respondents in IAVA’s 2014 member survey said they knew a veteran who had attempted suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“The known rate of suicide among troops and veterans is deplorable,” said IAVA chief executive officer Paul Rieckhoff. “We have reached a point where we need to send up a flare and demand new actions from our elected officials.”
The VA has taken steps to address the suicide epidemic, increasing spending on mental health by nearly 57 percent since 2009, to about $6.5 billion annually. The number of veterans seeking mental health care from VA has grown dramatically, rising from 927,000 in 2006 to 1.3 million in 2012, according to a Washington Post report last year.
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