RIVERDALE, Md., Oct. 5, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The Troops First Foundation today released a letter signed by the seven living former secretaries of Veterans Affairs encouraging members of Congress to ensure the creation of "National Warrior Call Day" on November 21, 2021. Warrior Call is a national suicide prevention effort aimed at reaching veterans and service members who may be dangerously disconnected from others.

The goal is to alleviate alienation among service members and veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, researchers have identified social isolation as "arguably the strongest and most reliable predictor of suicidal ideation, [suicide] attempts and lethal suicidal behavior."

The day would mark a coast-to-coast call to action for the public and those who have served. It asks all Americans – especially active-duty and retired military personnel – to make contact and call someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and connect them with relevant support systems. Participants can take the Warrior Call pledge online.

"We recognize Warrior Call is no single solution to this complex issue, but greater connectivity will serve as a starting point for reaching vets and service members who don't raise their hands, who are suffering in silence and might be spiraling into an abyss," said Warrior Call Co-Chairs Frank Larkin and Leroy Petry. Larkin is a former Navy SEAL, 40th US Senate Sergeant at Arms and father of a Navy SEAL son who committed suicide. Petry is a 2011 recipient of the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military honor.

"Having the support of these former VA Secretaries is an important step in creating momentum for Warrior Call," said Larkin and Petry. "We are grateful for their leadership – knowing how familiar they are with the issues confronting active-duty service members and veterans – and hope Congress takes note of their involvement. The onus is now on Congress to act as soon as possible."

A bipartisan resolution in Congress – H. Res 512 – would officially commemorate the day on the calendar this year, on the heels of Veterans Day and prior to the holiday season. Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), a lead cosponsor of the resolution, offered it as an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in the U.S. House of Representatives, which cleared that chamber on September 23. The U.S. Senate still must pass its version of the NDAA, which then goes to conference with the House. The VA secretaries argue that Warrior Call should be maintained and passed in the final NDAA sent to President Biden this year.

The text of their open letter follows. It is signed by Anthony Principi (4th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs), Jim Nicholson (5th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs), James B. Peake (6th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs), Eric Shinseki (7th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs), Robert A. McDonald (8th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs), David Shulkin (9th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs) and Robert Wilkie (10th U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs).

Dear Members of Congress: Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) recently introduced a congressional resolution ( H. Res. 512 ) to declare Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021, the first annual "National Warrior Call Day." The language has since been added as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. We are writing to encourage members of Congress, particularly conferees to the National Defense Authorization Act negotiations, to ensure this amendment is passed and the commemorative date is made official.

As former secretaries of the Department of Veterans Affairs, we understand firsthand the challenges active-duty service members and veterans face and the need for their peers, friends, and family to lift them up. With its simple mission to implore Americans – but especially active-duty service members and veterans – to connect with someone who has worn or is currently wearing the uniform and let them know they care – Warrior Call can foster greater connectivity, compassion, and better outcomes. We recognize with the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the return of even more troops, that such an awareness campaign is especially timely and a valuable non-government tool to put into action.

Warrior Call is designed to address the pressing challenge of military and veteran suicide. Lawmakers understand by now that military suicide outpaces the public in a significant way. The resolution presents some of the relevant statistics succinctly, including:

The number of suicides of members of the armed forces serving on active duty increased to 377 in 2020, compared to 348 the previous year.Veteran suicide has steadily increased since 2014 with 6,435 veterans taking their own lives in 2018, though dipped modestly in 2019.After adjusting for sex and age, the rate of veteran suicide in 2018 was 27.5 per 100,000 individuals, higher than the rate among all United States adults at 18.3.

As the resolution also notes, roughly two-thirds of these veterans who take their own lives have had no contact with the VA. By no means a replacement for full care, Warrior Call will help connect veterans into the VA system and its attendant focus on helping veterans experiencing intense personal problems.

A "warrior call" involves a call to military members and/or veteran but can also be realized through in-person meetings or video conferencing. The goal is to have individuals "make a call, take a call." It is not an overstatement to note that increasing connection within the military community and steering individuals to important resources will save lives.

In short, enactment of this resolution will lend needed credibility to this project and enhance the efforts to create an official day on the calendar. In doing so, awareness of this problem will only increase, which in turn can have a real positive impact and help many Americans.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

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