News : New Jersey Officials Praise Bipartisan Decision to Fund Vets Helpline
Mount Holly, NJ, USA, Aug 12, 2015 -- Veterans who pick up the phone at the Rutgers-based Vets4Warrior's hotline will continue to be able to answer the call.
Republican and Democratic legislators came together in Burlington County — home to one of the largest military bases in the country and the state's largest population of veterans — at a press conference on Wednesday morning to praise a bipartisan decision that provides $8 million in special state funding the national call center after its federal funding was cut.
The helpline, which allows veterans or their family members in need to speak with a trained veteran 24/7 to seek services or simply talk, was left in limbo after the Pentagon decided to instead commit resources to an alternate helpline that's not entirely staffed by veterans.
"There's no program like Vets4Warriors in our country," said Christopher Kosseff, president and CEO of Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care, which employees 40 veterans working full and part-time to staff the helpline in Piscataway.
Kosseff joined elected officials from Burlington, Camden and Gloucester counties at the press conference, held at Rowan College at Burlington County's location in downtown Mount Holly, in heralding the work the Vets4Warriors peer hotline has done in the past four years of operating, when they've answered more than 130,000 calls from across the country.
"They call us with no stigma," said Ret. Major General Mark Graham, director of Vets4Warriors. "We often say in the call center, it's a stigma-free zone."
Connecting with other veterans is what makes the program unique in addressing the serious issue of veteran suicides, officials said, echoing a point the state's federal legislators pressed on in a letter sent to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter late last month urging the Pentagon to continue its support.
Federal funding, which totalled $5.5 million a year, is scheduled to run out on Saturday, but officials said Wednesday that the transition to state funding, an increase of $2.5 million, will be "seamless." Funds will also go toward providing other services to veterans, such as health care.
State Sen. President Steve Sweeney, who led Wednesday's press conference, said he's hopeful the federal government will "get its act together" and reinstate funding for the program in the future, but it's not a program either Democrats or Republicans want to see fall by the wayside.
"I can't see New Jersey letting this go," said Sweeney.
Kosseff added they're also looking into a private-public partnership to provide for long-term funding for the program in the instance federal funds aren't brought back.
Securing the $8 million that will allow the phones to keep ringing at Vets4Warriors for the next year wasn't exactly an easy task, like any attempt to obtain or increase state funding, Sweeney said, but it was one officials on both sides of the aisle were willing to agree on.
"We had to fight for [veterans,]" Sweeney said. "Some things rise to the top. This is one of them."
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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Vets4Warriors is a confidential, Peer-to-Peer support network and call center for Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Service members and their families.
Published: Thursday, August 13, 2015