If you heard that over in Iraq and Afghanistan 22 servicemen and women were dying in combat every day, you would probably demand answers from the President and our military leaders, and insist on bringing home our troops.
The sad fact is that they are dying – not from enemy fire and roadside bombs, but by their own hands. Yes, on average twenty-two American Veterans commit suicide each day.
And just as troubling, many of our vets have come home from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other assignments and now have to deal with physical wounds and disabilities, psychological impacts such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or even just finding a job! But the good news is that there is help. The challenge is getting vets connected to the resources available.
The American River Democrats at the May 20, 2015 meeting welcomed Matthew Ceccato, a field representative and case worker from Congressman Ami Bera’s office, specializing in veterans’ affairs.
Mr. Ceccato is a veteran himself, having served with the 82nd Airborne Division of the US Army. Like many young men and women, he joined the military after 9/11, and while preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, he and his unit were instead sent to Iraq. He served two tours of duty, and would likely have done more if he had not been wounded in the second tour. He was shot in both legs, and while recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, he began to deal with adjustments both physical and mental. Like many servicemen and women, his greatest feelings were that he did not want to leave his team behind.
Ceccato joined the Wounded Warriors Fellowship program, and earned the position of Field Representative and Case Worker with Congressman Bera’s office. With over 100,000 veterans located in the Sacramento area (second only to San Diego in California), the need for veteran outreach is especially high in congressional Districts 6 and 7. Ceccato has taken on the responsibility to reach out to, not only Irag and Afghanistan vets, but to Vietnam vets, and even the aging Korean War and World War II vets who still need support. Peacetime vets, and those who may have served during smaller scale combat missions are also eligible for, and often in need of support.
Ami Bera has made veterans’ issues a priority as well, sponsoring legislation such as the Veterans Choice Accountability Act, which allows vets to get healthcare outside the VA Hospitals when the wait is too long or location is too far, and the Health Care For Heros act, which will reconcile health records from active duty military to the VA systems, so doctors in the VA will have full knowledge of the medical history of their patients. Ceccato said it was particularly gratifying that Bera worked with New York Congressman Chris Gibson, who is also a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, on the legislation. Bera and Gibson, a Republican, are part of a group who have pledged to work “across the aisle” to get important work done.
But the sad thing is, many veterans don’t know where to turn, and when they do seek help, they may have trouble navigating the system to get the assistance they need. And, frankly, some are simply too proud to reach out for help. After their heroic service, they may feel they shouldn’t need help from anyone, they can handle anything. But these issues can leave vets homeless, unemployed, alone, sick or disabled, suffering from depression or other mental illness, and far too often suicidal. Another growing problem is women vets with children who find themselves homeless, and even hopeless.
But that is where people like Matthew Ceccato come in. As a Veterans Services Representive for a local Congressperson, their mission is to help insure all veterans get all the support that is available, and that they deserve! Agents like Matt can help vets find all the support they need, in areas like medical care, housing, job training and recruitment, and financial security. The government can be infamous for rejecting an application because of one small mistake on a form, but people like Matt can help vets fill out and submit forms to insure they will be accepted.
There are several local options for vets to get help, including the US Veterans Service Center at 1111 Howe Avenue, #390, 566-7430 or 877-927-8387; California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet.ca.gov) 1227 O Street, 800-952-5626; the County Veterans Services office at 2007 19th Street, 874-6811, and others. But those needing extra help may contact Matt at representative Bera’s office at 635-0505, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Personal help and a special resource packet are available for those in need, or their families.
The Mather Veterans Village is also under way to provide veterans with critically needed housing options and supportive services located adjacent to the Sacramento Veterans Administration Medical Center in Rancho Cordova.
An HBO documentary film, which won an Oscar for best documentary short film, titled Crisis Hotline, Veterans Press 1, shows the heroic efforts of those on the receiving end of thousands of suicidal calls each month. It is time to insure America’s veterans get the help they need before they make that call, or even worse, don’t make that call and become another tragic loss. Veterans, rather than becoming victims of their service, can be a hugely valuable resource for America to tap into. As Matt said, “It is time for veterans to propel this country into greatness.”
For more information see Representative Ami Bera’s website with information on getting help for Veterans.
Ken Kiunke, Communications Secretary, ARDems