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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Congress introduces new bill to combat suicide among Veterans

“22adayis22toomany” is a familiar but hauntingly slogan that’s being repeated over and over by Veterans and others who care.  According to recent statistics, 22.3 Veterans commit suicide everyday. 

Clay Hunt, a Marine Cpl and survivor of Afghanistan, in 2007 was wounded in the wrist.  Prior to this, he watched a fellow Marine sustain a deadly injury by one of the insurgents. 

Hunt recovered from his wounds and decided to go to sniper school and then deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, that deployed to Afghanistan in 2008.  During this mission, sixteen Marines and a Navy Corpsman were killed in combat, and numerous others wounded, before other troops were sent from the United States.

Hunt left the Marine Corps afterwards, struggling with depression, panic attacks and PTS. Like any good Marine, more concerned about his fellow brothers in arms and Veterans, he immediately threw himself into veterans advocacy and humanitarian work. Hunt even traveled to Haiti in 2009 with other Marine vets to help after the devastating earthquake.

When this mission was complete, Hunt returned home, and in 2011 he committed suicide. He had been battling with the VA to get his disability rating upgraded from 30 percent, because in the midst of struggling with PTS, he was having a hard time finding employment, and his marriage was unraveling.

If only Clay had received the help needed from Veteran Affairs, this tragedy might have been avoided.  Susan Selke, Clay’s mother, recently testified before a Senate hearing, and said: Despite his proactive and open approach to seeking care to address his injuries, the VA system did not adequately address his needs. Even today, we continue to hear about both individual and systemic failures by the VA to provide adequate care and address the needs of veterans.”

Hunt is remembered in new legislation taken up by the Senate. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans Act calls for independent evaluations of all mental health-care and suicide-prevention programs in VA and the Defense Department, a student loan repayment program that would offer up to $120,000 per year to recruit psychiatrists who commit to working for VA, and a program that would take back unneeded prescription drugs from patients at VA facilities.

The legislation was introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-W.V.).

A similar bill has been introduced in the House. Combined, they seek to address troubling statistics and stories like Hunt’s. An estimated 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to a report released last year by VA. In the active ranks, there were 320 suicides in 2012 and 255 in 2013, according to Defense Department statistics. There were 72 in 2012 and 86 in 2013 in reserve units, the Pentagon said.

Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, urged Congress to pass the legislation bearing Hunt’s name by the end of the year.  “Combating suicide is not just an issue that the veterans community should be concerned about,” he said. “Mental health care for veterans concerns all Americans, especially as our country continues to send troops to the Middle East. Twenty-two veterans die by suicide each day.”