The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will soon become law. The Senate passed the bill 99-0 on Tuesday. It had previously passed the House of Representatives and now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill requires an independent third party to evaluate the efficacy of mental health prevention programs in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill also requires the VA to set up a centralized website “to provide veterans with information regarding all of the mental health care services” available through the VA.
The bill will create two separate pilot programs. One of the programs will be used to attract psychiatrists through a loan repayment program. Eligible psychiatrists will need to serve at least two years in that position and can see loan forgiveness of up to $30,000 per year. The other pilot program will assist veterans who are transitioning from service and improve access to mental health services for veterans.
The Clay Hunt bill is named after a Marine who took his life in 2011 after serving in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We are extremely grateful for the Senate passing this bill and all those who have worked so hard on it. While we are a little bittersweet, because it is too late for our son Clay, we are thankful knowing that this bill will save many lives,” said Susan Selke, the mother of Clay Hunt. “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”
The bill, which won unanimous support on Tuesday, was blocked during the last Congress by Senator Tom Coburn. The Oklahoma Republican, who earned the nickname “Dr. No” during his tenure on Capitol Hill, objected to passage since the bill would cost $22 million, increasing federal spending. Coburn retired at the end of the last Congress, opening the door to passage in the new Congress.
Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), who voted for the legislation and co-sponsored the bill, called its passage a “step forward in addressing veteran suicide.”
“With an estimated 22 veterans taking their lives every day, we must do more to prevent veteran suicide and improve mental health care services available to our heroes,” Donnelly said.
The Donnelly-backed Sexton Act, which passed in December, requires annual mental health assessments for all active-duty, Reserve and National Guard members. The prior policy only screened servicemembers who were on deployment.
Image Credit: Katie Harbath, flickr