WASHINGTON, D.C. – Major General Matt Quinn, Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard testified in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to share Montana’s efforts in preventing suicide among service members.
Quinn spoke at a hearing titled “Harnessing the Power of Community: Leveraging Veteran Networks to Tackle Suicide”, before the Senate Committee on Veteran’s Affairs.
Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) serves as the ranking member for the committee.
“We’re here today because suicide is a national public health crisis,” said Tester in his opening remarks. “In different ways, it’s impacted nearly every one of us in this room, and as many as 20 veterans die each day by suicide.”
The committee heard testimony from mental health experts and service members from around the country who spoke about what has been working in their areas.
“Only 33% of our current National Guard service members qualify for VA care, so this was and continues to be a challenge that we had to solve as a state,” explained Quinn to the committee.
Quinn spoke on several programs utilized in the state including the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The State of Montana enrolled every member of the Montana National Guard in EAP in 2016.
That enrollment provided in-person counseling services across the state for any issue the service member or family member is facing.
“I’m encouraged by the number of Montana National Guard men and women taking advantage of the benefit,” said Quinn, “but additionally encouraged by the number of spouses and children of service members seeking care.”
Quinn also spoke on the work of the cities of Helena and Billings in a VA/DPHHS program titled the “Mayors Challenge.” As a result of those efforts, Montana was selected as one of seven states to participate in the “Governor’s Challenge.”
“The Governor’s Challenge is a collective effort with the Veterans Administration and the Department of Public Health and Human Services Administration’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to combat the loss to suicide of our veterans, service members and family members,” said Quinn.
Quinn closed his testimony by urging the committee to support mental health efforts for National Guard service members.
“Although a National Guard service member may not have served in a combat theater, many may be suffering from the traumatic stress of recovering neighbors from hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, and landslides,” said Quinn.
Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-GA) commended Quinn for his testimony and bringing attention to the role and services provided by the National Guard.
“In Georgia, we have a lot of national guardsmen who have been deployed many times,” said Isakson, a former guardsman himself.
“The fact that you tried to reach out to those that weren’t eligible per se, but serve the country is a tremendous testimony to you. But also, a testimony of what we all need to do to make sure that kind of information is accessible to all our veterans that are in our states,” he added.
The hearing also included written testimony from Matt Kuntz, executive director of the Montana chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Kuntz brought attention to several initiatives in the state including the Suicide Assessment and Follow-up Engagement: Veteran Emergency Treatment (SAFE VET) project.
In his statement, Kuntz lauded SAFE VET for helping to reduce suicidal behaviors and increasing the odds of veterans attending an outpatient mental health visit.
Kuntz’s full written testimony can be found here.
The full link to “Harnessing the Power of Community: Leveraging Veteran Networks to Tackle Suicide” can be found here.
If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts please reach out for help.
The Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255 and the Text Line can be accessed by texting “MT” to 741 741.
More information about suicide prevention in Montana can be found here.
-John Riley reporting for MTN News