On average in the United States, 22 military veterans kill themselves every day. That means more of our veterans take their own lives each year than have been killed in the entire wars in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. A peer-to-peer counseling program pioneered in Suffolk County that has slowly been introduced in other parts of the state to rave reviews could be a crucial way to get veterans the assistance they need.
But it must be funded. To serve the more than 200,000 veterans living in New York City, it must be expanded. And to do the most possible good, it must be national.
Begun in 2012, the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support Project is an initiative that lets veterans get counseling anonymously in small-group settings to manage post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual trauma, addiction and other issues resulting from military service. Experts say that the military experience is so unique and leaves veterans so guarded that it often takes another veteran to provide help. The Dwyer program became so effective that, with the strong support of U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin of Long Island, then a state senator, it spread across the state. It is now offered in 22 counties and has helped more than 10,000 veterans.
These successes are a cause for celebration, but they’re also a spur to supporters to keep fighting for the program, and pushing for more. Keeping the Dwyer program funded is a constant battle, as is the push to expand it to serve veterans in more communities. In the past, State Senate Republicans kept the money flowing. This year, with the Senate in Democratic hands, it fell to leaders like Sen. John Brooks, chair of the veterans committee, to force the money, including $300,000 to introduce the program into New York City, into the budget.
Now Zeldin wants to replicate the program nationwide. He’s introduced a bill with the bipartisan support of several New York representatives that ought to turn into unanimous support in Congress. The Dwyer program, inexpensive and effective, is a way to get veterans the care they need and were promised.