Veterans Suicide Prevention Act Heads to White House After Passing in the Senate

veteran-suicide-prevention-act-wh-senate
Marine veteran Clay Hunt is shown here in Haiti in 2009, two years before he committed suicide. New suicide prevention introduced on Capitol Hill bears his name. (PHOTO CREDIT: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America)

 

Legislation designed to help combat suicide by U.S. military veterans passed in the Senate 99-0 on Tuesday, setting the stage for it soon to become federal law.

Approval of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was lauded by veterans and suicide prevention groups as a victory that will save lives. The legislation is named after a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and later took his own life in 2011.

“We are extremely grateful for the Senate passing this bill and all those who have worked so hard on it. While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt, in a statement. “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”

The Senate bill calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a one-stop website to serve as a source of information for VA mental health services, address a shortage of mental health care experts by allowing VA to recruit them through a student loan repayment pilot program, expand how long veterans can seek mental health care services at VA to better address conditions like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The bill also calls for an evaluation of all VA mental health care and suicide prevent practices to determine what is working and make recommendations on what is not and for the department to establish a new peer support pilot program designed to help service members who are leaving the military access VA mental health care services.

The legislation had backing from Sen. John McCain (R.-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and dozens of other members of Congress. A similar bill passed in the House on Jan. 12.

The bill had broad support on Capitol Hill last year, but was blocked from a vote by a single retiring politician, Sen. Tom Coburn (R.-Okla.). The fiscal conservative objected to it on the grounds that it would add $22 million in federal spending — less than a quarter of the cost of a new fighter jet. Coburn is no longer on Capitol Hill, however, allowing the vote in the Senate to proceed.

“This is a tremendous day for our community,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American and a staunch proponent of the legislation. “This bill gives many veterans the new hope they so desperately need and demonstrates that our leaders are willing to give veterans the care they deserve. We call on President Obama to demonstrate his commitment to our veterans with a public signing ceremony.”

Rieckhoff thanked McCain and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D.-Conn.) for reintroducing the bill.

“While we are thrilled about today’s vote, all of us must remember the sobering reality that necessitated this action: the invisible wounds of war and our nation’s initial failure to treat them,” Rieckhoff said.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Tuesday that he is pleased the bill passed.

“I had the honor of meeting Sgt. Hunt’s parents and was inspired by their strength and their commitment to further improve care for Veterans like Clay,” he said in a statement. “Thanks to their efforts, this legislation will help VA take additional steps to improve mental health care for those who have borne the battle.”

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SOURCE: The Washington Post, Dan Lamothe

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