The National Mall between the Capitol and the White House was decorated with over 1,800 miniature flags Thursday, the lawn a sea of little old glories in the cold morning light, snow still on the ground, each flag waving in the spring air a veteran lost to suicide this year alone.
According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, an average of 22 veterans take their own life each day.
The IAVA is in Washington for its yearly action campaign to petition the government on veteran’s issues.
This year, they’re working together with Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., to introduce the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, a bill aimed at reducing the veteran suicide rate by extending eligibility for Veterans Administration health care and mandating a review of mental health care programs the VA offers.
In a statement about his legislation, Senator Walsh said, “Far too often, we’re leaving our veterans to fight their toughest battles alone ... Returning home from combat does not erase what happened there, and yet red tape and government dysfunction have blocked access to the care that saves lives.”
The bill would also instigate a review of certain behavioral discharges and create a pilot program for student-loan repayment for health care professionals that work for the VA.
Walsh, who, commanded a Montana National Guard battalion in Iraq, said, “When we returned home, one of my young sergeants died by suicide, so this is very personal to me.”
The Senator called suicide, “an epidemic we cannot allow to continue.”
Walsh and the IAVA are calling on Congress to pass the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act by Memorial Day.