Having served in the U.S. Army for 24-years as a nurse and doctor, I have personally seen both the physical and mental wounds that veterans endure in service to our nation. Many veterans are still living with those scars, and without proper care and treatment, mental health crises can make everyday life a struggle or even life-threatening.
According to a 2020 report published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 17 veterans die from suicide every day. Tragically, many veterans who bravely served our country in Afghanistan over the past 20 years during the Global War on Terror may now feel helplessness, anxiety, or depression because of the recent crisis in Afghanistan.
Last week, I joined my colleagues, Reps. Antonio Delgado, Mikie Sherill, and Tracey Mann in introducing the bipartisan Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act.
Our legislation would implement improvements in both staff training and management and would facilitate the Veterans Crisis Line’s (VCL) transition to 9-8-8 as a part of the new national three-digit suicide and mental health crisis hotline to ensure that veterans are receiving the top-quality mental health crisis resources they deserve. The REACH for Veterans Act is endorsed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Board for Certified Counselors, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Wounded Warrior Project.
Our veterans deserve the highest quality care at all times. The VCL is a critical tool to helping our veterans in their time of need. Being able to work with the amazing Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and other stakeholders around the country to develop updated training guidelines will better serve all of our veterans.
I was proud to join a letter to Rep. Mark Takano, the Chair of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, urging him to immediately hold a full committee hearing on veteran mental health following recent events in Afghanistan. Over the last few weeks, the world has watched Afghanistan become a true crisis. I have spoken to many veterans and active-duty soldiers who served in Afghanistan and they need to know that we support them and their sacrifice to our country.
Mental health in our veteran community has always been a challenge. For decades we have worked to improve mental health access and services for our veterans. Today, I want to let you know, you are not alone and there are resources provided through the VA to help our veterans with any crisis they may be going through. If you are a veteran or know a veteran who needs immediate support, you can reach the VCL 24 hours a day/7 days a week by calling 1-800-273-8255 and pressing 1.
Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a 24-year Army veteran and a member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee currently representing Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.