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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

U.S Senate Approves Bill to Help Prevent Veterans’ Suicide

The Senate 99-0 unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act bill on Tuesday, Feb. 3.  According to an editorial written by Bryant Jordan, “The only reason the final tally was not 100-0 is because Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, was delayed by weather from getting back to Washington in time for the vote.”  Kirk has always been a supporter of the legislation, said his office.  
This bill now goes to President Obama for his signature.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Chief Executive Officer Paul Rieckhoff said the president should “demonstrate his commitment to our veteran[s] with a public signing ceremony.”
This bill is intended to help reduce the veteran suicide rate, which averages about 22 veterans per day.  Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said after the vote that “when you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide — which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we’ve been fighting — then you have a serious problem.  
“This legislation is an important step toward providing better access to mental health resources for our veterans.”  The measure is named for a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who committed suicide in 2011. He was only 28 years old.
“We are extremely grateful for the Senate passing this bill and all those who have worked so hard on it,” Hunt’s mother Susan Selke said in a statement released by the IAVA after the vote. “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.”
The Hunt bill was expected to pass with overwhelming majorities in the House and Senate last year. It passed in the House but failed in the Senate after retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, placed a hold on it, preventing the chamber from holding a vote. Coburn said the Clay Hunt bill duplicated existing Veterans Affairs Department programs and that its $22 million price tag was not offset by cuts in other programs.  Veterans groups and military associations condemned the lawmaker’s action and vowed to see the bill reintroduced as soon as the new Congress convened earlier this month.
Isakson rejected Coburn’s contention that the bill duplicated existing programs.  There was no opposition to the bill this time around.  Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, called the vote a “breakthrough bipartisan step [that] will help countless veterans overcome invisible wounds of war that lead to 22 tragic suicides every day.”
The $22 million Clay Hunt bill includes a new tool that the Veterans Affairs Department can use to recruit more mental health professionals: repayment of student loans for psychiatry students. VA officials say the pilot program will be a significant incentive for young psychiatrists to fill VA positions.
Another factor of the bill is that it mandates annual evaluations to determine the effectiveness of VA suicide prevention programs, new veteran peer support programs, and the creation of a new website to better explain what mental health resources are available to veterans.
 Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, who brought the bill to the Senate floor on Tuesday, said the U.S. has “a moral obligation to identify, resource, and make available to our veterans effective forms of treatment to help eliminate suicide resulting from severe combat-related psychological trauma.”
Since this bill was blocked last session of Congress, veterans are no doubt pleased to see efforts have been made to take steps that will help to close the gap on this epidemic, because #22adayis22toomany.