Friday, September 7, 2012

Paul Sullivan: A Veterans Advocate Who's Got Your Back

If you or someone you care about is a veteran, you should meet Paul Sullivan. He's got your back. Sullivan, who's been an invaluable source for me in my coverage of veterans issues over the years, is a tireless and influential advocate for veterans. He truly cares, and he gets things done.

A Gulf War veteran who once worked for the Department of Veterans Affairs, Sullivan, the former head of Veterans for Common Sense, is now the managing director of veterans outreach at Bergmann & Moore, a Washington DC law firm that focuses on VA disability benefits law.

Yes, there are still some law firms out there who are doing the right thing for veterans.

Every day, Sullivan and the folks at Bergmann & Moore help veterans make the often-difficult transition from military to civilian life. This week, they've been spreading the word about President Barack Obama's executive order issued last Friday to improve suicide prevention services at VA. 

I wrote a bit about this executive order here on the blog a few days ago.

Talking about Obama's order, Sullivan told the Army Times, "First, as commander in chief, he is sending a very strong, anti-stigma, pro-treatment message, essentially saying it’s the best thing to do, go in and get treatment. Second, he’s saying that DoD (Department of Defense) and VA are going to be ready when they show up if a veteran is having mental health symptoms and they reach out for treatment.”

In an NPR interview, Sullivan described the President’s decision as “a huge leap.”

As Sullivan points out, the new order requires VA to ensure veterans in crisis who seek help from VA see a mental health professional within 24 hours, and requires VA to hire additional mental health employees so VA meets increasing demand for treatment. That's huge.

Obama’s order requires the DoD to create and institute a suicide prevention program aimed at assisting service members with finding mental health treatment. Also vitally important. 

Suicide numbers among both active duty and veterans are disturbingly high. It is nothing less than a national crisis. The U.S. Army announced that 38 soldiers took their lives in July - that's the highest suicide rate since the Army began keeping track. 

The Army announced a Stand Down to address the crisis on September 27.

The number of Veteran suicides is also staggering: a veteran commits suicide every 80 minutes. As Sullivan pointed out to me, even Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer admits to struggling with suicidal thoughts. In his memoir, Meyer reveals he attempted suicide in 2010.

In the wake of the 2007 Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit against VA, which Sullivan helped generate and which I recently wrote about in Newsweek/The Daily Beast, the department made changes in an effort to reduce suicides among Veterans.

As of July 2012, according to numbers provided to me from Bergmann & Moore, the Veterans Crisis Line received 723,115 contacts via phone, chat, and text. The Crisis Line’s staff assisted with 23,483 rescues in which the veteran was brought in by first responders for medical care.

If you or anyone you know or care about is struggling with suicide, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. Or visit

And if you or anyone you care about is having problems with VA disability benefits, contact Sullivan's firm, Bergmann & Moore, at this toll free number: 877-838-2889.

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