New Jersey's rate of suicide among military veterans is lower than the national percentage, according to federal data, but remains higher than the state average of all suicides.

It's a problem that has no easy answers, and a new piece of legislation introduced in the Assembly does not address it directly, but rather provides support for families and caregivers of those who have taken their own lives.

The bill would require the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to create a bereavement counseling program in which participants could receive up to 30 hours of counseling per year for a period of two years.

Assemblywoman Cleopatra Tucker, D-Essex, is sponsoring the measure along with Assemblymen Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, and Joe Danielsen, D-Somerset. Tucker reasons that therapy is often needed for survivors of a natural death within their family, so counseling under these circumstances would be especially important.

"Suicide is a terrible thing, and it's not like a regular death that someone copes with," Tucker said. "You can imagine the heartache and the pain and suffering that a person would have to go through that has a relative that commits suicide. It's twice as bad."

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Caregivers were included in the bill because, as Tucker said, sometimes veterans may share more information about their state of mental health with someone not in their family.

"We don't want to leave anyone out that might be experiencing this grief and bereavement of a veteran," she said.

In a perfect world, suicide rates would be going down, and there would be no need for legislation such as this. But Tucker said rates have instead been increasing, both in New Jersey and across the country.

So, providing at least some solace — at no cost — to survivors during what Tucker called a "crucial period" in their lives may help reduce the damaging effects of a suicide on a veteran's loved ones.

"We have veterans' organizations and everything that will be doing this counseling," she said. "And it's free, it's no charge, so they won't have to worry about whether they're going to have to pay for it or not."

The bill has been referred to the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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