President Obama signed a veteran suicide prevention bill into law Thursday, calling on all Americans to "reach out and do more with and for our veterans."
"This has to be a national mission. As a nation, we should not be satisfied, will not be satisfied until every man and woman in uniform, every veteran, gets the help that they need to stay strong and healthy," Obama said.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will help the Department of Veterans Affairs study new strategies for suicide prevention and give student loan incentives to recruit psychiatrists to work with veterans.
The bill's namesake was a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who struggled with post traumatic stress disorder and campaigned on behalf of veterans health care. He took his own life in 2011 at age 28.
"Today we honor a young man who isn't here, but should be here," Obama said at a White House signing ceremony, surrounded by Hunt's parents and friends. "Part of what made him remarkable was he was able to name the problem. He understood it."
Obama said Hunt sought help, but "by the time the severity of his condition was recognized, it was too late." He said the reforms in the bill might have helped save Hunt's life.
"What this bill does is take away some barriers — some needless barriers that shouldn't be there," said Richard Selke, Hunt's step-father. The bill requires a web site with information on mental health resources available to veterans from the VA, and encourages the VA to collaborate on suicide prevention efforts with other mental health organizations.
The bill also contains oversight provisions requiring an annual, independent assessment of VA programs. Veterans advocates said they would continue to watch to see how the law was implemented, and would push for even more legislation and oversight.
"Hopefully we can come back in one year or two years and count the lives that have been saved," said Jake Wood, who served with Hunt and lobbied for the bill.
The bill-signing was a bipartisan ceremony, with Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looking over Obama's shoulder as he signed. "Clay's parents are Texas Republicans," Obama said. "I mean, that's just not run-of-the-mill Republican."
"This is one of those areas where we can't have an argument," Obama said.
It was the second bill Obama has signed into law this year. He's also issued 13 written veto threats, including one against the Keystone XL pipeline bill headed to his desk after the House gave final passage Wednesday.