Bipartisan bill aims to provide increased mental health resources to VA, while demanding more accountability
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, released the following statement after the Senate voted to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act by a vote of 99-0. Baldwin is a cosponsor of the legislation, which now heads to President Obama’s desk for signature.
“With an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide each day, the Clay Hunt SAV Act is a step in the right direction when it comes to addressing the invisible wounds of war with which too many our nation’s heroes are struggling. I’m glad this bipartisan legislation builds on the progress we made last Congress to strengthen the quality of care delivered to our veterans, but we have so much more to do. That’s why I remain committed to continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the many challenges facing our service members both in Wisconsin and across America.”
The bill would require a third-party evaluation of existing mental health care and suicide prevention programs at the Department of Defense and the VA to gauge their effectiveness and make recommendations for consolidation, elimination or improvement. It would also provide for a new website that offers veterans information regarding available mental health care services; create a pilot loan repayment program for VA psychiatrists; improve the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA and non-profit mental health organizations to enhance collaboration of suicide prevention efforts; create a community outreach pilot program to help veterans transition from active duty service; and extend the ability for certain combat veterans to enroll in the Veterans Health Administration for one year.
In a letter to Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Isakson and Ranking Member Blumenthal, Senator Baldwin has asked that as they begin to draft a Committee report to accompany H.R. 203, they include language clarifying that opioid prescribing practices should be covered as part of the bill’s third-party evaluation of Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) mental health care and suicide prevention programs.
The legislation is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. Clay enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2005 and deployed to Anbar Province, near Fallujah, in January 2007. He was shot in the wrist by a sniper’s bullet that barely missed his head, earning him a Purple Heart. Clay recuperated at Twenty Nine Palms, CA and then graduated from Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in March 2008. He redeployed to southern Afghanistan a few weeks later. His unit returned in late October of 2008 and he was honorably discharged from the Marines in April 2009. After returning home, Clay suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for many years and struggled with inadequate care at his local VA hospital before taking his own life.