TRENTON, N.J. – Veteran and active duty military suicides account for more deaths since 2010 than combat mortalities from the Vietnam War and post-9/11 conflicts combined. The mental health crisis afflicting military personnel needs more attention, Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney says.
With the Senate resolution, sponsored by Sens. Kristin Corrado and Anthony Bucco, released from its Military and Veterans’ Affairs committee Monday, Rooney is calling on the Assembly’s committee to advance his resolution (SJR62/AJR67) for consideration in the full Assembly.
“Even in 2023, although great strides have been made, there is still a stigma attached to mental illness. We need to let our military personnel know that strong persons are not weak to seek treatment,” Rooney (R-Bergen) said. “There is hope with help.”
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, with a week set aside as National Suicide Prevention Week. Rooney’s resolution would designate each Sept. 22 as “Veterans Suicide Awareness & Remembrance Day.”
An average of 22 active military and veterans die by suicide daily. Yet, the usual medical channels available to military and veterans often offer inadequate mental health research and treatment. Grassroots groups – many established by those who have lost a loved one to suicide – have sought to address the crisis by filling in those gaps through fundraisers and awareness-raising campaigns such as “Veterans Suicide Awareness & Remembrance Day.”
The New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, and nonprofits offer veterans and active military resources, such as hotlines and mental health workshops, to help those at risk of suicide. Rooney says designating Sept. 22 to focus on mental health and programs to help military families navigate treatment and recovery will, he hopes, stem the tide of suicides.
Nearly 100,000 members have died from suicide since 2001.
“It’s difficult for many military members to return to civilian life, especially those who have been in combat. Many of them suffer with undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and don’t know that they need help or don’t know how to get help. They feel isolated and eventually believe the only way out is suicide,” Rooney added. “They need to know they’re not alone.”