Veterans day is a special day to salute the brave men and women who have honorably served our country.

As an Army combat veteran, I served alongside many of the country’s finest. Some ended up sacrificing everything they had for our freedoms and security. As Lincoln once said during his famous Gettysburg Address, “they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Since the very first Continental Army, nearly 50 million Americans have answered the call to service and today 20 million live among us. Our soldiers have fought in many different places; from Yorktown to Gettysburg, Normandy to Vietnam, Iraq to Afghanistan, totaling one hundred and fifty countries. It is our duty to honor them by remembering and never forgetting their sacrifice.

Now, as we near Nov. 11, 2019, 101 years after the World War I Armistice that this day commemorates, our veterans face a new, but familiar challenge at home: staying alive. Every single day approximately twenty of our nation’s veterans die by suicide. The veteran suicide rate is one and a half times higher than that of non-veterans.

Male veterans between the ages of 18 and 34 experience the highest rates of suicide, while male veterans over the age of 55 experience the highest number of suicides. More than six thousand veterans die from suicide per year since 2008. For comparison, a little more than six thousand total soldiers have been lost fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Despite the veteran suicide epidemic being a top priority for our country and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the veteran suicide rate has remained stagnant for almost fifteen years. That is why I am introducing two new pieces of legislation, the VA Suicide Prevention Services Act and the VA Suicide Prevention Services Accountability Act, both aimed at combatting the veteran suicide epidemic and ensuring our veterans have the resources necessary to survive.

The VA Suicide Prevention Services Act would require the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) to ensure that each VA medical center is staffed with at least one full-time suicide prevention coordinator. The VA Suicide Prevention Services Accountability Act would provide oversight and accountability of the VA’s mental health and suicide prevention services to find where the VA is falling short and improve the accessibility and effectiveness of these critical services for our veterans.

No one should be okay with this devastating epidemic affecting our service men and women who return home. The United States of America will remain the land of the free because we are the home of the brave. As Americans, it is our civic duty to do everything in our power to ensure they are protected. I will not stop until the mission to defeat the veteran suicide epidemic is accomplished. I will continue the fight and ask that you join me.

Please, as we celebrate this Veterans Day, in addition to honoring those who have sacrificed for our country, help spread awareness by joining me in the fight to save our veterans.

Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Watkins has represented the Second U.S. Congressional District since January, following his election last fall. His district covers all of eastern Kansas, aside from Wyandotte, Johnson and Miami counties.

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