(Oct. 5) Kudos are due to seven former secretaries of Veterans Affairs, as well as U.S. Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Elaine Luria of Virginia, who are pushing to help prevent suicides among past and present members of the U.S. armed forces.

The seven secretaries released a letter today endorsing a legislative effort led by Cheney, a Republican, and Luria, a Democrat, to establish Nov. 21, 2021, as the first annual “National Warrior Call Day.” The resolution , also introduced as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, “encourages all Americans, especially members of the Armed Forces serving on active duty and veterans, to call up a warrior, have an honest conversation, and connect them with support, understanding that making a warrior call could save a life.”

The high incidence of suicide among service members and veterans has been widely reported. The resolution notes that active-duty suicides grew from 348 in 2019 to 377 in 2020; that the rate of veteran suicides in recent years hit 27.5 for every 100,000 individuals, 50% higher than the general population; and that “more veterans have died by suicide in the last 10 years than members of the Armed Forces who died from combat in Vietnam.”

“We recognize with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the return of even more troops, that such an awareness campaign is especially timely and a valuable non-government tool to put into action,” write the seven secretaries . They are Republican appointees Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James Peake, David Shulkin, and Robert Wilkie and Democratic appointees Eric Shinseki and Robert McDonald.

As the secretaries note, a major focus of the warrior calls will be to connect veterans to help at the Department of Veterans Affairs because “roughly two-thirds of these veterans who take their own lives have had no contact with the VA. By no means a replacement for full care, Warrior Call will help connect veterans into the VA system and its attendant focus on helping veterans experiencing intense personal problems.”

This plan for a Warrior Call Day should be an easy call. Whether as part of the national defense act or as stand-alone legislation, Congress ought to ensure it passes — at zero cost to the Treasury, by the way — as a valuable public service for those who gave such service to the country.

[That was the full column, which originally ran here. I will update the progress of this legislation in future weeks.]


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