This week, we’re taking up bipartisan legislation to help prevent veteran suicides, which according to the VA, are occurring at a rate of 22 deaths per day.
H.R. 5059 is named in honor of Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who earned a Purple Heart in Iraq before redeploying to Afghanistan. After being diagnosed with PTSD, Clay sought to help others and raise awareness about depression. Then, on March 31, 2011, he took his own life. Clay was 28.
Clay’s mother, Susan Selke, has detailed the problems Clay encountered at the VA. They sound all too common. He waited months to see a psychiatrist. The appeal of his disability rating took 18 months – it finally came through five weeks after his death.
“Clay’s story details the urgency needed in addressing this issue,” Susan recently said in testimony before Congress. “Not one more veteran should have to go through what Clay went through with the VA after returning home from war.”
That’s why we’re moving the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), here are some of the things this bill will do to help prevent veteran suicides:
- Increase access to mental health care by, among other things, creating a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers as well as a one-stop, interactive website of available resources.
- Better meet the demand for mental health care by starting a pilot program to repay the loan debt of students in psychiatry so it is easier to recruit them to work at the VA.
- Boost the accountability of mental health care by requiring an annual evaluation of DoD and VA suicide-prevention practices and programs.
This measure has the backing of a number of veterans groups, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA) and the VFW. When it was introduced, Chairman Miller said:
“This slow-motion national tragedy is likely to continue as long as the Department of Veterans Affairs sticks to its normal, business-as-usual approach of treating veterans where and how VA wants as opposed to where and how veterans want. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will help create a greater accounting of available services and an enhanced community approach to delivering veterans suicide prevention and mental health care treatment, which is why I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting it.”
This bill would help many families, and it continues our work to improve access and accountability at the VA so our veterans have the 21st-century health care system they deserve.