The U.S. Senate approved the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act by a vote of 99-0 Tuesday afternoon. The bill seeks to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for veterans.
The federal VA estimates 22 veterans die by suicide each day.
Marine Clay Hunt has become the face of the suicide epidemic. Hunt killed himself in 2011 after deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. His family and veteran advocates say he struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder and received inadequate care from the VA before taking his own life.
On Monday, Connecticut’s U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal joined with members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America or IAVA to stress why the legislation is needed. He said, “Our nation's heroes who come back from service with invisible wounds of war and inner demons that they cannot overcome simply because our nation fails them. This bill is a first step toward meeting mental health needs that will enable them to overcome those inner demons that all too often overcome them.”
His bill would require an independent evaluation of all of the suicide prevention programs under the federal VA and Department of Defense. It also would create a new website where veterans could get info on mental health services, and it would allow for a pilot college loan repayment program for psychiatrists who decide to work for the VA.
One of the reasons the VA has a backlog in making appointments for veterans is a shortage in medical professionals like psychiatrists.
Late last year, the bill was expected to pass both chambers, but outgoing Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn blocked the vote, saying the legislation cost too much, and was duplicative with other initiatives to combat suicide.