(Reuters) - Democratic U.S. presidential contender Elizabeth Warren vowed on Tuesday to cut the suicide rate for veterans in half within four years, as part of a plan she unveiled to help service members and their families.
Warren, a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election, said that if elected, she would tackle the problem in her first term by investing in mental healthcare, research into the causes of military suicides and providing annual mental health checks for service members.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 17 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day, based on 2017 data, the most recent available. In 2017, 6,139 veterans died by suicide, 129 more than in 2016 - a rate 1.5 times higher than for non-veteran adults.
The U.S. senator from Massachusetts, who has three brothers who served in the U.S. military, also rolled out a slew of other proposals to help current and former military personnel, including guaranteeing them pay and health benefits commensurate with those provided to most civilians.
Warren follows several other Democratic rivals in releasing plans to help the military and veterans. They include Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, a veteran who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 as part of the Navy Reserve. He has also advocated investing heavily in treating veterans’ mental health.
Warren and Buttigieg, along with former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, are in the top tier of 17 Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination. Voting in the Democratic nominating contest begins in Iowa in February.
Warren also made support for military wives and families a key part of her plan. That includes increasing job and education opportunities for military spouses, especially on bases; investing in childcare centers and schools on bases; and improving military housing.
Warren said she would reverse Trump’s ban on transgender individuals serving in the military on her first day in office, take steps to eliminate sexual assault in the service, and protect veterans and family members of serving military personnel from deportation.
Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney