TRENTON, N.J. – Since 2010, the United States has lost more military members to suicide than deaths from the Vietnam War and post-9/11 combat deaths combined. An average of 22 active troops and veterans take their own lives daily. The continued stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide prevents many people from seeking help.
Assemblyman Kevin J. Rooney recently introduced legislation to bring awareness to this epidemic of despair among military personnel. He is seeking to recognize Sept. 22 as “Veterans Suicide Awareness & Remembrance Day” (AJR247) and designate the Suicide Awareness & Remembrance flag as an official state flag (A6079).
“Suicide is the 14th leading cause of death in New Jersey, and 10th leading cause of death nationwide. Veterans and active military die by suicide at almost double the rate as their civilian counterparts,” Rooney (R-Bergen) noted. “Raising our continued awareness and breaking the stigma of suicide and mental health are key steps to preventing this unnecessary loss of life.”
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. The observance for veterans and military personnel on Sept. 22 started with U.S. Air Force veteran Kevin W. Hertell, who lost his cousin, Senior Airman Robert McRae Dean, to suicide in 2016.
The SAR flag, designed by Hertell, is a tangible symbol recognizing the 22 daily average veteran suicides while honoring those fallen troops and their grieving families.
“Our brave men and women face challenges on and off the field of battle most of us will never know,” Rooney said. “Putting a day and a symbol to this public health crisis will shed light on this national tragedy and, I hope, educate our veterans and active military members, their families, and the public to save lives.”