FIRST ON FOX: A bipartisan bill would create a new, nationally recognized day aimed at helping fight the tragedy of veteran suicide.
A new bill being introduced Wednesday by Reps. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., and Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., would recognize the Sunday after Veterans Day as National Warrior Call Day. Americans would be encouraged to mark the day by calling a current or former member of the Armed Forces to ‘have an honest conversation, and connect them with support,’ according to bill text previewed by Fox News Digital.
‘I’ve had about 21 of my friends commit suicide, and I’ve had around 50 of my friends, a little over 50 of my friends, killed in combat. That’s 71 people that I know personally, that I worked with, who were very good friends of mine that have died since 9/11. And I’m only 53 years old. So, this stuff has got to stop,’ Van Orden told Fox News Digital.
The first-term GOP congressman is a retired Navy SEAL with five combat deployments. His bill notes that the rate of veteran suicides has ‘steadily increased’ since 2006 and that suicides among active-duty service members have increased from 2019 to 2020.
‘If people can call each other and just check in and say hi and see how you’re doing … one of the first suicidal inclinations is isolation. So, when we can break that isolation, hopefully it’ll allow our fellow veterans to sort of police our own and take further steps if there is an issue or they think that there’s an issue,’ Van Orden said.
A recent study by America’s Warrior Partnership and in collaboration with the Pentagon and University of Alabama shows that the annual rate of veteran suicides is in reality 2.4 times higher than the Veterans Affairs Department has been reporting.
Kilmer said he hopes to see the legislation move swiftly through Congress.
‘The good news is this got broad bipartisan support, not to mention the fact that all seven living former secretaries of the VA, a bunch of veterans service organizations, 27 Medal of Honor recipients have backed this because they understand the need,’ Kilmer told Fox News Digital. ‘I don’t think this is a Democratic issue or a Republican issue. I think this is an American issue. And I just fundamentally believe we should embrace the notion if you serve our country, we should have your back.’
Kilmer, who is a co-chair of the bipartisan House Military Mental Health Task Force, recalled a conversation that made him realize the impact that insufficient mental health support has on the country’s troops.
‘We know that veterans face alarming suicide rates, nearly double those of civilians. That rate is even higher for young post-9/11 vets and service members,’ he said.
‘For me, part of this stems from early on in my tenure, meeting with a military leader, and I asked him, ‘What keeps you up at night?’ thinking he was going to say, sequestration or budget cuts or terrorists or something,’ Kilmer said. ‘He said, ‘You know what keeps me up at night is mental health.’ He said, ‘I’ve lost more soldiers to suicide than I have to enemy combatants.’’
Van Orden commended the bipartisanship he’s seen on the Veterans Affairs Committee so far, where he chairs the subcommittee on economic opportunity, and added of his legislation, ‘I cannot possibly imagine anyone who would not vote for this bill.’
‘Check your team jersey at the door, that’s a huge deal, start working together,’ he said.