US Senators Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) both praised the unanimous passage of HR 203, the Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill, which garnered both bipartisan and bicameral support. You can read the press release in its entirety below:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., ranking member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, praised Senate passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act today by a vote of 99-0.
The legislation (H.R.203) — passed unanimously out of the Senate VA Committee on Jan. 21, 2015, as the committee’s first priority this Congress — seeks to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for American veterans.
“I am pleased the full Senate acted quickly following VA Committee passage on this urgent legislation,” said Isakson, who also is a veteran. “When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide – which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we’ve been fighting – then you have a serious problem. This legislation is an important step toward providing better access to mental health resources for our veterans.”
“This breakthrough bipartisan step will help countless veterans overcome invisible wounds of war that lead to 22 tragic suicides every day,” said Blumenthal. “We owe these wounded warriors more effective mental health care, so they can win the war against inner demons that come home from service. This bill will help save lives – courageous, strong veterans who need and deserve enhanced psychiatric care, counseling, outreach support and accountability from the Veterans Administration. A friend of mine, Justin Eldridge of southeastern Connecticut, braved mortar fire and snipers in Afghanistan, returning to his young family with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress. Tragically, he slipped through the cracks at his local VA facility and eventually took his own life. As brave as he was on the battlefield, he could not win his war at home. We have an obligation to keep faith with our veterans, and this legislation – providing an impartial review of VA mental health programs, more centralized information and outreach, more support for VA psychiatrists – constitutes an important step.”
Specifically, the bill provides for better access to information on mental health by improving the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA and non-profit mental health organizations to enhance collaboration of suicide prevention efforts, as well as including a new website that offers veterans information on mental health care services. It creates a pilot program of loan repayment for VA psychiatrists. The Clay Hunt SAV Act also creates a community outreach pilot program to help veterans transition from active duty service and extends the ability for certain combat veterans to enroll in the Veterans Health Administration for one year.
The Senate version of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was introduced in the Senate by U.S. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., along with Blumenthal, and was also co-sponsored by Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., Michael Bennet, D-Colo, Roy Blunt, R-Mo., John Boozman, R-Ark., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Richard Burr, R-N.C., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Chris Coons, D-Del., John Cornyn, R-Texas, Steve Daines, R-Mont., Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Al Franken, D-Minn., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Dean Heller, R-Nev., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, John Hoeven, R-N.D., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., Angus King, D-Maine, Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Joe Manchin, D-W.V., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., Patty Murray, D-Wash., Bill Nelson, D-Fla., Gary Peters, D-Mich., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Chuck Shumer, D-N.Y., Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Jon Tester, D-Mont., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.
“I am proud that the Senate voted today to enhance the care we provide our men and women in uniform who continue to battle the lasting wounds of war,” said Senator McCain. “According to a study to be published in the February edition of the Annals of Epidemiology, the rate of suicide among veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is approximately 50 percent higher than the rate among the general public, and a shocking 22 military veterans commit suicide each day. Our nation has much work still to do to fulfill its responsibilities for our veterans, and this bill is an important step in improving life-saving mental health care services for the men and women who have served and sacrificed.”
“The suicide rate among veterans is tragically high and the programs and resources available to veterans are overdue for modernization. Today, the Senate took action to rectify this troubling trend. We must do a better job on behalf of the military men and women who serve to protect our liberties. I am proud that the Senate overwhelmingly passed the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act,” said Senator Burr. “This legislation is big step in the right direction to fulfill our nation’s promise to its veterans.”
The bipartisan, bicameral legislation previously passed the House of Representatives unanimously on Jan. 12, 2015, and will now go to the president’s desk to be signed in to law.
Isakson has long been focused on improving the quality and timeliness of care at Department of Veterans Affairs healthcare facilities across the country, and he helped to uncover signs of neglect and mismanagement at the Atlanta VA Medical Center after holding a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee field hearing there in August 2013.
The legislation is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. Clay enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2005 and deployed to Anbar Province, near Fallujah, in January 2007. He was shot in the wrist by a sniper’s bullet that barely missed his head, earning him a Purple Heart. Clay recuperated at Twenty Nine Palms, Calif., and then graduated from Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in March 2008. He redeployed to southern Afghanistan a few weeks later. His unit returned in late October 2008 and he was honorably discharged from the Marines in April 2009. After returning home, Clay struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder for many years as he was provided care at his local VA hospital before taking his own life.