My Turn with Assemblyman Randy Voepel

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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to educate individuals and organizations about mental health challenges and treatment options. 

Approximately one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year. While the causes of mental illness may vary, what is certain is that mental health issues are real and treatable medical conditions that affect both the U.S. civilian and veteran populations.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to educate individuals and organizations about mental health challenges and treatment options. 

Approximately one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year. While the causes of mental illness may vary, what is certain is that mental health issues are real and treatable medical conditions that affect both the U.S. civilian and veteran populations.

An estimated 44,193 Americans die by suicide each year, making suicide the tenth leading cause of death in the United States. In a 2016 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs suicide data report, an average of 22 veterans died by suicide each day. This is an alarming statistic considering veterans constitute only 8.5 percent of the U.S. population and account for 18 percent of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults. 

One of the main detriments facing veterans today is the inability to find a steady position at a place of employment. With upwards of 453,000 unemployed veterans in the United States, it is time for initiatives that promote mental health and job opportunities for veterans.

Another challenge for veterans adjusting to civilian life is finding affordable housing.  Around 30 percent of veterans, aged 18 to 24 years, are unemployed.  Furthermore, even those veterans who are employed struggle to meet their basic needs, oftentimes living paycheck to paycheck. While veteran homelessness in San Diego County is down 9 percent from last year, and the unsheltered homeless veteran population has seen a 21-percent drop from 2016, there’s still plenty of work to be done nationwide.  On any given night in the U.S., around 75,000 veterans are on the streets.

In the spirit of promoting mental health and employment opportunities amongst veterans, this year I introduced the Veterans Employment Parity Act (AB 353), which will authorize employers to set a policy that allows preference in hiring to veterans, regardless of when they served. There is no substitute for what employment offers in the way of structure, support and meaning to our mentally venerable veterans.

This year, California has made significant progress regarding mental health awareness, but we still have a long way to go. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, risks for suicide among Veterans are 21 percent higher when compared with U.S. civilian adults.

As we recently celebrated Memorial Day, it is important to remember the sacrifices made by those who died serving in the military.  While we commemorate those fallen on the battlefield, we must not forget to honor those veterans who have died from self-inflicted wounds.  A recent survey by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America showed that 40 percent of veterans have known at least one Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide, and 31 percent have thought about taking their own life since joining the military.

We must do everything in our power to ensure veterans have adequate resources and opportunities to thrive. This May, show your support for veteran mental health and spread the word about preventative measures and initiatives that can help save countless lives.  Suicide awareness is the greatest proponent to suicide prevention.

1 COMMENT

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