By Debbie Gregory.
From 2004- 2005, John Walsh served as Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard, leading more than 700 soldiers in Iraq. For his service, Walsh received the Bronze Star, Legion of Merit Award, and Combat Infantry Badge. Walsh retired from the National Guard in 2012.
In February of 2014, John Walsh was sworn in as a U.S. Senator, representing the state of Montana. He is the first combat Veteran from the Global War on Terrorism to serve in the U.S. Senate. Senator Walsh rolled up his sleeves, and got to work, introducing his first legislation only weeks after taking office.
Sen. Walsh’s first bill is designed to help reduce the number of Veterans suicides. The senator joined with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) to introduce landmark legislation to combat suicides among Veterans. It is being called the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act (SAV Act).
Each day, an estimated 22 Veterans commit suicide. While one is too many, the current number is unacceptable, and desperately needs to be improved upon. This is not negotiable, and it is imperative that efforts be made for the sake of the men and women who answered the call to serve and fight for their country.
“Far too often, we’re leaving our Veterans to fight their toughest battles alone,” Sen. Walsh said. “Returning home from combat does not erase what happened there, and yet red tape and government dysfunction have blocked access to the care that saves lives. It is our duty to come together for real solutions for our heroes.”
According to Sen. Walsh’s website, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act will:
- Extend special combat eligibility from five to fifteen years – improving access to care for troops and Veterans by extending combat eligibility.
- Review wrongful discharges – An unknown numbers of troops who struggle with mental health issues have been discharged for behavior often caused by invisible injuries. This legislation sets up a review process for potentially wrongful discharges.
- Increase professionals in the VA – This legislation increases the capacity to meet demands for mental health care professionals by repaying medical school loans for psychiatrists who commit to long-term service in the VA.
- Improves mental health care and suicide prevention programs – This legislation requires an annual review of care programs within the DOD and the VA to ensure resources are effectively combatting the problem.
- Ensures training for mental health care providers – This legislation requires the VA and DOD to ensure mental health care providers have special training to identify Veterans at-risk for suicide.
- Creates greater collaboration between the VA and DOD – Provides continuous and seamless care to Veterans by putting a timeline on the NDAA mandate to make all DOD and VA records electronic.
- Establishes a common drug formulary between DOD and the VA– Requires DOD and the VA to adopt the same drug formulary for prescription medication to ensure seamless care.