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Bill would boost veterans programs in rural areas

Appeal-Democrat - 6/13/2018

June 13--Local U.S. Rep. John Garamendi, a Fairfield Democrat, recently voted in favor of an increase in funding to aid rural veterans health initiatives, including Yuba and Sutter veterans services, according to a press release.

Garamendi voted for a bill that would funnel more than $194 million toward funding for the Veterans Administration. If passed in the Senate and approved by President Donald Trump, it would increase critical funding for mental health, homelessness prevention, caregiver support, rural veterans' health initiatives, opioid treatment and prevention programs.

"Every local clinic or facility will benefit from this," Garamendi said Monday. "This is about $9 million more than last year."

Garamendi said that although there is no information on specific dispersal until after it becomes a bill, grant programs will also be available.

"Services that are already available will be expanded, particularly clinics in Yuba City, similarly in Lake County and other rural clinics," Garamendi said.

Garamendi also said he expects more job openings as these "critical" programs increase.

"Mental health issues are common among veterans. This is tied in with drug and alcohol abuse. The combination makes this exceedingly important," Garamendi said.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence reports veterans are twice as likely as non-veterans to die from accidental overdoses of opioid painkillers.

Since March of last year, the VA system has treated more than 68,000 veterans for opioid addiction.

In 2017, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a suicide study conducted from 1979 to 2014. Suicide rates in younger veterans is more common than that of older ones, the study found, and veterans have an increased risk of suicide than non-veterans. In some states, veteran suicides count for more than 20 percent of all suicides.

Don Parsons, county veterans service officer with the Colusa County Veteran's Services office, said he assists more than 100 active service members and veterans every month. Some come from Colusa and neighboring areas including Beale Air Force Base.

Parsons helps veterans and active duty members submit disability claims, tuition fee waivers and many other items to ease their transition into civilian life or aid widows or widowers.

"My calendar is full," he added. Parsons also said an increase in funding is "critical."

"The state needs money for housing and mental health initiatives, not only for veterans, but especially war vets," Parsons said.

He said within the military community and across the nation, there is still a negative stigma with mental health.

"We can't turn a blind eye," he said.


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