- - Wednesday, February 19, 2020

America faces a crisis of epidemic proportions. The number of Americans who take their own lives by suicide each day is staggering and sobering. Even one suicide is heartbreaking; a recent study estimated that 135 surviving people are affected by each suicide.   

The latest data show that 17 veterans tragically take their own lives each day, and the rate shows no sign of slowing. Veterans comprise only 7.9 percent of the U.S. population, yet account for 13.5 percent of all suicides. 

Americans know something has to be done to help the men and women who have selflessly served our nation, often resulting in terrible, unseen wounds.  Thankfully, some Americans have answered the call to help those “who have borne the battle.”

Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs (MOWP) and Shield of Faith (SOF) Missions are two examples of faith-based service organizations that exist to meet the psychological, emotional, and spiritual needs of our veterans and their families.

SOF Missions was established in 2011 as a non-profit veteran organization by Dr. Damon and Dayna Friedman to combat the suicide epidemic among veterans and service members. SOF Missions’ mission “is to support warriors who struggle with the visible and invisible scars of war and provide them with the tools to overcome the negative impacts of combat” by “empowering warriors to find purpose and be resilient.” 

After overcoming his own battles with PTSD and nearly becoming a veteran suicide statistic himself, Mighty Oaks founder Chad Robichaux chose to serve his fellow veterans with one of the most effective faith-based combat trauma and resiliency programs available anywhere. He has led life-saving programs for over 3,000 active military and veterans at four Mighty Oaks Ranches around the Nation. The Mighty Oaks Warrior Program that teaches combat veterans struggling with Post Traumatic Stress how to get beyond combat trauma.

Collectively, MOWP and SOF Missions help thousands of our veterans annually. Both organizations rely on faith as a fundamental aspect of their mission, their identity, and how they meet the needs of these men and women.

Unfortunately, due to an Obama administration policy, faith-based veterans groups like MOWP and SOF Missions are treated unequally from their secular counterparts. 

Currently, VA rules place faith-based organizations at a disadvantage compared to secular ones. In certain circumstances, faith-based organizations such as MOWP or SOF Missions are even required to present veterans with secular alternatives, and advertise that they do so, which only serves to undermine and stigmatize their noble efforts.

In other words, the existing regulations pose an unnecessary obstacle for otherwise qualified religious organizations that can provide quality services, making it more difficult for veterans to obtain the help they need.

Thankfully, the Department of Veterans Affairs recently proposed a new rule that would remove these regulatory barriers, ensuring that faith-based organizations are treated equally when seeking to partner with the federal government. 

First Liberty enthusiastically supports this breath of fresh air.  By removing the requirement that faith-based providers refer beneficiaries to an alternative provider, the VA would also be in compliance with President Trump’s executive orders ending discrimination on the basis of religion or religious belief. 

Caring for our veterans is an American duty.  It’s a blemish on our republic that so many come home to little or no help despite the sacrifice they and their families have made to our freedom. Those who have already answered the call to help heal struggling veterans — faith-based or not — should be applauded and supported. The new VA rule will ensure that more of our veterans will get the help they need to leave the battlefield behind.

• Mike Berry is general counsel at First Liberty Institute, and a former active duty U.S. Marine Corps officer.

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