Recognizing the emotional toll suicide takes on the loved ones and caregivers of the deceased, three Assembly Democrats have introduced a bill that would require the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) to establish a counseling program for certain individuals affected by a veteran’s suicide.
Under the bill (A-5177), DMVA would be tasked with creating a Bereavement Counseling Program to provide free counseling to family members and volunteer caregivers of veterans who die by suicide. Caregivers would qualify if they are a member of a qualified veterans’ organization who provided social work/counseling to the veteran – without compensation – for at least three months prior to the veteran’s death.
The program would match clinicians who donate their time with eligible family members or caregivers who wish to receive counseling through the program. Participants could receive up to 30 hours of counseling per year, for a total of two years.
Assembly sponsors Cleopatra Tucker (D-Essex), Herb Conaway (D-Burlington) and Joe Danielsen (D-Middlesex, Somerset) issued the following joint statement:
“Every year, our state loses more than 60 veterans to suicide, with thousands more lost throughout our country. Each and every one of those deaths leads to immense heartbreak and suffering for their loved ones.
“Losing someone to suicide can often take a heavy toll on those who cared for them, overwhelming the caregiver with emotions such as guilt, grief and despair. Establishing a free Bereavement Counseling Program for family members and volunteer caregivers of veterans who die by suicide would help them process their feelings over this unimaginable loss.
“In the tragic event a veteran’s life is lost to suicide, we cannot ignore the challenges faced by those left behind. This program is how we can show them our support.”
The bill has been referred to the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee and awaits further action.