Washington – A bill designed to prevent suicide by veterans is expected to be signed into law by President Obama after its approval Tuesday by the U.S. Senate, 99-0. The measure was sponsored by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and John McCain, R-Ariz.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans legislation will provide more mental health resources to the Department of Veterans Affairs and demand more accountability from the agency. The VA’s reputation was tarnished by last year’s revelations about the poor delivery of health care at some of its facilities.
“This breakthrough bipartisan step will help countless veterans overcome invisible wounds of war that lead to 22 tragic suicides every day,” Blumenthal said. “We owe these wounded warriors more effective mental health care, so they can win the war against inner demons that come home from service.”
The bill was approved unanimously by voice vote in the House last month. It now goes to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it.
The legislation would require an annual, third-party evaluation of mental health care and suicide prevention programs at the VA and establish a pilot program that would repay up to $30,000 per year of the college loans of psychiatrists who commit to at least two years of service in the VA.
The bill would also establish another pilot program in five communities with high numbers of veterans. That program would establish peer support groups to help in the transition from active duty to civilian life and improve access to mental health services.
The bill is named after Clay Hunt, the decorated U.S. Marine sniper who took his own life in 2011 after returning from Iraq.
“Clay is only one example of veterans who are trying to make their way in our country today, but who suffer – more so than they have to – because of the Department of Defense’s and Department of Veterans Affairs’ mismanagement of resources for suicide prevention and mental health treatment,” said McCain in a speech on the Senate floor before the vote.