Military Connection: Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill Back in Senate

Clay Hunt

For the second time in just over a month, legislation titled “The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act” has been overwhelmingly passed in the House and is once again on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

In December, 2014, the Clay Hunt SAV Act H.R. 5059 unanimously passed in the House and was sent to the Senate, only to be blocked by out-going Oklahoma Senator, Dr. Tom Coburn. Coburn, who retired after the conclusion of Congress’ final 2014 session,  has been blamed for single-handedly vanquishing the bill. But there are those who believe that the retiring senator, without voters to answer to for re-election, merely took a hit for others in the Senate.

On January 12, 2015, the Clay Hunt SAV Act, named for a Marine Veteran who committed suicide in 2011, was again unanimously passed in the House, this time as H.R. 203. The Clay Hunt SAV Act 2015 is virtually unchanged from its predecessor, which failed in the Senate less than one month ago.

The act, championed by Veteran groups such as the American Legion, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) is viewed as legislation that would reduce the number of military and Veteran suicides, and improve access to quality mental healthcare for Veterans.

The $22 million legislation calls for an annual review of established DOD and VA suicide prevention programs in order to streamline the most effective practices. The bill also facilitates the VA’s partnering with mental health nonprofits, creates a website to consolidate the VA’s newly combined mental health resources, and expands established peer support networks. The Clay Hunt SAV Act  also allows the VA to recruit and retain psychiatrists by offering a student loan repayment incentive, up to $120,000, for mental health specialists that go to work for the VA.

With Dr. Coburn no longer in the Senate, supporters of the bill believe that the Clay Hunt SAV Act will pass this time around. Something must be done to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the high rate of military and Veteran suicides, which have been estimated as high as 22 per day. Will others in this year’s Senate share Dr. Coburn’s sentiment on the legislation and its cost versus potential to effect change? We’ll just have to wait and watch the drama on Capitol Hill unfold.

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Military Connection: Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill Back in Senate: By Debbie Gregory