Senator Calls For Expansion Of Successful Veterans Program

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NEWARK – Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) is calling on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to expand the Vet2Vet program at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) into a national program.

The program employs and trains veterans to act as peer counselors who provide a vast array of services to veterans, service members and their families.  UMDNJ pioneered the successful program with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

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“UMDNJ’s Vet2Vet program has had excellent results in New Jersey and should be expanded to serve every American military member and veteran,” said Lautenberg. “The Vet2Vet program is more than a hotline.  It’s a lifeline.  This innovative program gives veterans and their families the necessary tools to cope with difficult times.  Expanding Vet2Vet nationwide would help countless veterans, service members, and their families.”

“UMDNJ is grateful to Sen. Lautenberg for his efforts to help more veterans and their families by urging expanded use of our New Jersey, veteran-to-veteran confidential helpline program,” said William F. Owen, Jr., MD, president of UMDNJ.

“I am extremely proud of the commitment we have made to helping our veterans and the impact we have made in our partnership with the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.  We have been at the forefront of developing successful programs to aid in the recognition and management of the silent but deadly wounds to soldiers returning from war.  A growing body of evidence strongly suggests our approach is making a difference, and through Sen. Lautenberg’s determination, we are deeply encouraged that many more veterans and their families will receive appropriate help before their problems become life-threatening crises.”

Since Vet2Vet started working with the New Jersey National Guard there has not been a single suicide.  The unique method and success of the program led Lautenberg to issue a letter to Eric Shinseki, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, on Feb. 23 urging that Shinseki work with UMDNJ to expand Vet2Vet into a national program.

The pre-deployment and reintegration support services, combined with the veteran-operated helpline, provide an integrated continuum of support that helps prevent crises from developing.  Before deploying to combat zones, the Vet2Vet program provides in-person pre-deployment training for each deploying New Jersey National Guard member.  Upon returning from combat, the Vet2Vet program enhances the Department of Defense’s Yellow Ribbon services far beyond the required briefings of soldiers to provide mental health screenings, group debriefings co-led by peer counselors and mental health professionals, and family integration programming.

A critical aspect of the Vet2Vet program is the helpline, which provides immediate, direct contact with a veteran 24-hours a day and provides confidential and anonymous support.  It is not merely a suicide line.  Soldiers, veterans and their family members regularly call the hotline to discuss problems that include mental health concerns, but also other possible life stresses such as financial or marital problems.  The veteran counselors maintain contact and follow up with the callers until the concerns are resolved.

From April 2005 through Dec. 31, 2009, the helpline received and returned 12,858 calls from a total of 2,973 individual callers.  The calls included requests for appointments, telephone counseling, veterans’ benefits/financial information, or requests for more general information.


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