Volunteers placed 1,892 small American flags — each one representing a veteran or service member who committed suicide since January 1 — nearby the Washington Monument and the Capitol on Thursday. Suicide is alarmingly common among veterans; active military, fellow vets, and civilians alike gathered to show their determination to change that. One former army sergeant Michael Blazer attended in honor of a friend. “He shot himself in the same room as me and a friend of mine. I’m out here in memory of him,” Blazer told The New York Times.
“The event was part of an awareness campaign mounted by members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an advocacy group focused on issues affecting the nation’s newest veterans,”The New York Times reported. “They are in Washington this week as part of their leadership development program, Storm the Hill, and to support the introduction of legislation aimed at preventing suicides and providing more mental health resources for service members home from combat.”
New legislation aims to lengthen the window of “no-questions-asked care from Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and facilities,” according to The New York Times. As of it stands, veterans are eligible for a five years of VA hospital care. Supporters of a new bill wish to extend the mental and physical healthcare services to 15 years. Kate O’Gorman, director of a veteran’s advocacy group, adds that symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder may take seven to 12 years to truly manifest.
“That is a great start. The problem that I see is that these veterans are waiting too long to be seen, and they’re not seen frequently enough,” explains Matthew Hill, Managing Partner at Hill and Ponton. “Some may go up to three months without being seen, and some might go up to a year before they’re initially seen. It’s disgraceful that these men and women fight for our country, yet when they come home they still have to fight for the care that they’re entitled to.”.
ABC News reveals that new legislation would also “create a pilot program for student-loan repayment if health care professionals work for the VA, instigate a review of certain behavioral discharges, and mandate a review of mental health care programs at the VA.”