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Bennet calls for suicide prevention efforts in letter to VA

October 4, 2013 Updated: October 4, 2013 at 7:52 am
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photo - Michael Bennet
Michael Bennet 

Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet is hoping a Colorado road map to reducing suicides among veterans will be useful nationwide.

Bennet on Friday sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki pointing to a report on suicide from a panel of Colorado experts and calling for cooperative efforts to prevent veterans from taking their own lives.

Bennet's letter, which gives a nod to September's designation as Suicide Prevention Month, notes a recent VA study that found that 22 veterans kill themselves every day.

"Given the seriousness of this issue, I ask that you give the attached report due consideration as it includes tangible steps we can take to make a difference for veterans in Colorado and across the country," Bennet wrote.

Veterans issues are big in Colorado, which has an estimated population of more than 400,000 veterans, with the biggest concentration, more than 80,000, in Colorado Springs.

The senator convened a panel to study veteran suicides earlier this year. The panel involved several people from Colorado Springs including experts from Fort Carson, Air Force Space Command and mental health service provider AspenPointe.

The panel found that veterans need help moving to VA care after they leave the military and they need assistance in finding health providers where they live.

The panels recommendations included establishing community care networks for veterans that mirror the Peak Military Care Network in Colorado Springs, which helps connect troops and veterans to local resources.

Bennet failed in a attempt to pass a bill to create a foundation to accept donations for community veteran care networks in 2012. Bennet spokesman Kristin Lynch said he plans a second attempt for the measure.

The panel also called for refining the relationship between VA and the Pentagon, including expediting a plan that's underway for electronic medical records that can be used by both departments.

Bennet is also pushing a bill in the Senate that widens VA subsidies to employers that hire veterans.

Unemployment for the youngest veterans has been running at as much as 30 percent.

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