Bipartisan Veterans Suicide Prevention Act Passes House

Bipartisan bill, authored by Reps. Walz, Miller, and Duckworth, now moves to the Senate

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–December 9, 2014. Today, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (Clay Hunt SAV) Act passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The bill was introduced in July by Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN), House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and named in honor of the late Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran and suicide prevention advocate Clay Hunt. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

“The Clay Hunt SAV Act represents a major step forward in the fight to end veteran suicide. I’m pleased the House took action and moved it forward today. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the same without delay. Let’s work together to send this bipartisan bill to the President for his signature,” Rep. Walz, the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, said. “The fight, however, does not end after this bill becomes law. There is still more that must be done to improve mental health care for our veterans. I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress, veterans, and veterans’ advocates to ensure that improving care for our warriors remains a top priority.”

“Despite record mental health staffing and budget levels at the Department of Veterans Affairs, today’s veterans are falling victim to the invisible wounds of war all too often. An average of 18 to 22 veterans take their own lives each day – a heartbreaking statistic that has remained unchanged for more than a decade. In passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, the House took an important step toward putting an end to this grim status quo,” Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said. “The Clay Hunt SAV Act will ensure VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts receive crucial independent, third party oversight while creating a greater accounting of available services and fostering an enhanced community approach to delivering veterans suicide prevention and mental health care treatment, which is why I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting it.”

“Currently, there are over 2 million Post 9/11 Veterans across the country, and this number will only increase as our military force structure continues to draw down.  As the nature of war changes, the injuries our warriors sustain also change. Increasingly, theirs are invisible wounds, which do not have simple treatment and do not always manifest immediately,” Representative Duckworth said. “Just as these Veterans remained faithful to our country on the battlefield, it is our turn as their Representatives to remain faithful to them and it is our responsibility as a nation to, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.’ This responsibility includes ensuring that when our service men and women make the brave decision to seek help, they get the quality assistance and treatment they deserve in a timely manner. I am proud that this bipartisan legislation takes a crucial step in reducing Veteran suicide.”

“IAVA welcomes this tremendous next step in getting the Clay Hunt SAV Act to the President’s desk and especially applauds Chairman Miller, and Reps. Walz and Duckworth for their leadership in combating veteran suicide,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “Today’s vote is the result of a year of IAVA-driven action that brought the epidemic of veteran suicide out of the shadows and into the public spotlight. But now we need the Senate to step up and follow the House’s lead. Twenty two veterans continue to die by suicide each day. Our veterans deserve the 21st century care we promised them when they put on the uniform.”

Clay Hunt epitomized what it meant to live a life of service, both in and out of uniform. Hunt, who helped countless veterans overcome their demons, tragically took his own life in March of 2011. The legacy he left behind, however, will live on for generations to come.

A 2012 study from the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that 22 veterans are lost each day to suicide. That’s over 150 veteran suicides per week, over 600 per month, and over 8,000 per year. To put these staggering numbers in perspective, it is estimated that more veterans take their own lives each year than have been Killed in Action since 9/11.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act seeks to quell this growing epidemic by:

Increasing Access to Mental Health Care and Capacity at VA to Meet Demand

Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all VA mental health services for veterans.

Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.

Improving the Quality of Care and Boosting Accountability at VA

Requires a yearly evaluation of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care.

Developing a Community Support System for Veterans 

Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning Servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services. 

Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), spent 24 years in the Army National Guard and is the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) served in the U.S. Army for 23 years and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.

Source: duckworth.house.gov