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News : Vets4Warriors Hotline to Continue with State Funds
Trenton, NJ, USA, July 6, 2015 -- A Rutgers University-run hotline for troubled service members will be able to continue operating with state funding included in the 2016 fiscal year budget.
The budget signed by Gov. Chris Christie includes an $8 million appropriation to expand access to health care for veterans, and about $5.5 million of that will be dedicated to support the Vets4Warriors program.
Christie, who kicked off his campaign for president last week, said the money will allow the program to continue while leaders explore additional funding sources.
The toll-free hotline is staffed entirely by veterans. It was launched by Rutgers in 2011 and has fielded more than 130,000 calls from troops and military family members from across the globe. However, it was in danger of closing after the U.S. Department of Defense announced plans to terminate its funding for the program and provide peer-to-peer support through its Military OneSource hotline.
The move is expected to save the Pentagon millions, but was blasted by members of New Jersey's congressional delegation, in part because the program's closure would result in the layoff of 40 veterans who work as peer counselors at the Vets4Warriors call center in Piscataway.
New Jersey Democrats included money for the program in their alternative budget after the state's congressional delegation was unsuccessful in adding funding for it to a Senate defense spending bill.
Christie used line-item vetoes to ax $1.6 billion in spending from the Democrats' plan but left the Vets4Warriors funding untouched.
"The Vets4Warriors program offers an invaluable resource to our nation's servicemen and women in need," Christie said in a statement. "I am committed to continuing mutual efforts with our congressional delegation in preserving funding for this important program. In the meantime, the State of New Jersey will maintain the program funding for this year as we work to identify and explore resource options for the future."
Chris Kosseff, president of Rutgers Behavioral Health Care, which founded and operates Vets4Warriors, said the state funding would keep the program alive and the veteran peer counselors at work.
"I want to express my deepest gratitude to the governor and Legislature for keeping Vets4Warriors alive to support our service members and veterans, and for keeping 40 veterans employed doing this important work," Kosseff said. "We look forward to continuing to serve those who keep us safe and free."
Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-3rd of Toms River, said he was pleased the state chose to intervene, but that the fight to restore federal funding for the program would continue.
"I applaud the State of New Jersey for continuing to fund Vets4Warriors after bureaucrats in Washington made the foolish decision to cut the program," MacArthur said Monday. "The mental health of our veterans is one of my top priorities in Congress, and I have introduced legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health care. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, especially Congressman (Bill) Pascrell, to fight to see that federal funding is restored to this valuable program that serves our veterans at a time of critical need"
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
Today's Tip of the Day - Understand Your Business
More Editorial From Vets4Warriors
Vets4Warriors is a confidential, Peer-to-Peer support network and call center for Active Duty, National Guard and Reserve Service members and their families.
About Rutgers University:
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, commonly referred to as Rutgers University, Rutgers, or RU, is an American public research university and the largest institution for higher education in New Jersey.
Published: Tuesday, July 7, 2015