All former VA secretaries urge Congress to pass military suicide prevention legislation

·3 min read

All of the living former Veterans Affairs secretaries are encouraging Congress to pass legislation aimed at ending veteran suicides.

The seven former secretaries sent a letter to Congress regarding H.R. 512, a resolution that, if it were to pass, would designate Nov. 21 as the first annual “National Warrior Call Day.”

The commemorative day is meant to encourage veterans to reach out to one another, so others don’t feel isolated. The message aligns with the Department of Defense's "Connect to Protect" initiative, which was launched last month because September is Suicide Prevention Month.

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“As former secretaries of the Department of Veterans Affairs, we understand firsthand the challenges active-duty service members and veterans face and the need for their peers, friends, and family to lift them up,” they wrote. "With its simple mission to import Americans — but especially active-duty service members and veterans — to connect with someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and let them know they care — Warrior Call can foster greater connectivity, compassion, and better outcomes.”

Reps. Liz Cheney and Elaine Luria first introduced the resolution at the end of June. It was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, which is still in the legislative process.

Former Secretary Robert McDonald, who served from 2014 to 2017 under the Obama administration, stressed the importance of connectivity in an interview with the Washington Examiner.

"I'm just an advocate for any event that will cause people to become aware of this," he explained. "And then through that awareness, connecting people who need the help and I'm agnostic as to who leads it as long as it's trained in connecting people to trained resources ... We've got to get more people aware because for those who aren't connected, they could be walking down the street displaying symptoms and the people in the general public may not recognize it."

The other signatories of the letter are former Secretaries Anthony Principi, Jim Nicholson, James B. Peake, Eric Shinseki, David Shulkin, and Robert Wilkie.

Their push comes only days after the Department of Defense released their annual suicide report, which found that 580 service members took their own lives in 2020. There were 504 suicides in 2019 and 543 the year before, though the overall pool of service members fluctuated. The data does not include veterans, a group that has been plagued by mental health issues and suicides.

Frank Larkin, a former Navy SEAL and Secret Service agent, and retired Staff Sgt. Leroy Petry, a Medal of Honor recipient, are among those behind the campaign. Larkin's son, Ryan, committed suicide in 2017 after he spent 10 years of service as a Navy SEAL operator and explosives breacher. Testing after his death revealed an undiagnosed microscopic brain injury from blast exposure.

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Petry was awarded the nation’s highest military award for valor in combat for the courageous actions that resulted in the loss of his right hand. While under fire near Paktya Province, Afghanistan, on May 26, 2008, he picked up a live grenade near him and two wounded Rangers to throw it away from them when it detonated.

Larkin told the Washington Examiner that, “It's an undisputed fact that isolation is a key factor leading more — at least pulling people — to the darkness. As other have written, the tribal separation, losing your identity, your sense of purpose, feeling isolated and abandoned can be extremely harmful to someone's state of well-being.

Petry pressured Congress to move forward with the resolution telling the Washington Examiner, "It really costs nothing but a little bit of time and if a little bit of time saves somebody's life, then it's well worth it."

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Tags: News, Suicide, Veterans, Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense

Original Author: Mike Brest

Original Location: All former VA secretaries urge Congress to pass military suicide prevention legislation

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