New Jersey’s veterans helpline saved
To offset federal cuts, Gov. Chris Christie and the Legislature agreed to add money to the State budget to provide funding for the "Vets4Warriors" program and for other veterans' services, including health care.
The top lawmaker in the New Jersey State Senate said the clock was ticking and the program was in real danger of closing down.
"Unfortunately the gridlock in Washington prevented the funding from being renewed so we put $8 million of funding into the program," said Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford). "It would have shut down come this Saturday."
The funding will keep the helpline (855-838-8255) operational and be used to improve access to and quality of care for Garden State veterans by creating a competitive grant program open to health care facilities to ensure that veterans have prompt access to needed care regardless of insurance status. It will also expand the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs' Veteran's Haven program which helps homeless veterans.
"We need to ensure that our veterans, the people that were there to protect us, that we're there to help them in their times of crisis," Sweeney said.
The Vets4Warriors program started operating in 2011. Since then there have been over 130,000 contacts with service members and their families. Forty veterans are employed by the program along with four licensed mental health clinicians. The peer helpline offers the toll free number and live chat via its website. Every call is answered by a Veteran peer within 20 seconds. Ninety-five percent of the Vets4Warriors program peers are veterans.
"For veterans struggling with the return to civilian life, having a strong and accessible peer support network can be the difference between life and death," said State Sen. Dawn Addiego (R-Medford) in a press release statement. "The Vets4Warriors program ensures that our returning heroes are never alone in their times of need."
A 2013 report released by the U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs estimated that 22 veterans a day commit suicide. That's roughly one every 65 minutes.
"The transition from the battlefield to civilian life represents unique challenges for many men and women in our service. This is why it is important that we provide them with any support and assistance they need," State Sen. Jim Beach (D-Cherry Hill) said in a press release statement.