WASHINGTON (KTVZ) -- Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., joined a bipartisan group of 35 senators Tuesday calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to swiftly develop and conduct outreach to veterans of the Global War on Terrorism – especially those who served in Afghanistan – to provide them with mental health resources.
Their call for action comes as reports find calls to veterans’ suicide hotlines have increased since the fall of Kabul earlier this month.
“We write in light of the recent events in Afghanistan to encourage the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to quickly develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services,” the senators wrote. “More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need. We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the Department accelerate its efforts to provide resources – to veterans of these recent conflicts.”
In their letter, the senators note that veterans between the ages of 18 to 34 have the highest suicide rate among former service members and that many veterans do not use the Veterans Health Administration services, which provides many mental health resources geared at preventing suicide among service members.
“For this reason, we ask that the VA develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services. This plan must proactively contact veterans in the coming months through means including, but not be limited to: digital correspondence, social media, phone calls, and text messages,” the senators continued. “Furthermore, VA's outreach should consist of detailed information on clinical mental health services and community-based support systems, such as Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and VA Vet Centers. For example, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America is just one of many VSOs that helps connect veterans to services critical to mental health and overall well-being.”
Joining Wyden on the letter, led by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Reverend Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., are Sens. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Mike Braun, R-Ind., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., John Hoeven, R-N.D., Tim Kaine, D-Va., Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Roger Marshall, R-Ks., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Rob Portman, R-Ohio, Jack Reed, D-R.I., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Tina Smith, D-Minn., John Thune, R-S.D., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Mark Warner, D-Va.
“This has been an incredibly challenging time for the veteran community and VA must ensure that there is a sustained, comprehensive plan to reach veterans and connect them with potentially life-saving resources both within the VA and through VSOs, such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) Quick Reaction Force (QRF),” Jeremy Butler, IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) CEO, said. “We thank Senators Maggie Hassan, Joni Ernst, Bill Cassidy, and Raphael Warnock and all of the Senators that signed onto this important letter to ensure that the VA is doing everything that they can to help our veterans during this difficult time.”
A copy of the letter is here.