The House overwhelmingly approved a bill to prevent suicide among veterans Monday night that stalled in the Senate last month, though it’s expected to easily reach the president’s desk in this second attempt.
House lawmakers unanimously passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which will require annual reviews of the effectiveness of VA suicide prevention programs and offer a student loan repayment pilot program to recruit more mental health specialists.
Alex Nicholson, legislative director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said he is happy Republican leaders in the House have made preventing veterans’ suicide a priority and “put floor time where their mouths are.”
“I’m really pleased with their sense of urgency,” he said. “The speed at which they’ve moved is really remarkable.”
Despite wanting to get back to regular order, which would have required a hearing and vote in committee on the bill, leaders brought the bill right to the floor since it passed in the previous session of Congress unanimously, Mr. Nicholson said.
The bill is now on its way to the Senate, where it stalled last Congress over objections by retired Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, who said the $22 million price tag was too high for a bill that duplicated already-existing programs.
Rep. Tim Walz, Minnesota Democrat and author of the bill, said more than 750 veterans have committed suicide in the month since the House passed the bill when the Senate did not act.
“Many times down here, we feel like everything we do is the most important thing that has to happen now,” he said. “Rarely is that true. In this case, it is. We can’t wait another day.”
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s staff told IAVA that they were not aware of any opposition within their caucus and expected it to easily clear the upper chamber, Mr. Nicholson said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat and ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he also has heard no objections to the bill and is eager to bring it up in the Senate.
“It is my first legislative priority. I am hoping to introduce it within the next couple weeks,” he said.
Rep. Jeff Miller, Florida Republican and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said the bill alone will not solve the problem of suicide, but it is a good first step that should be followed by more legislation.
“It is a step that we owe Clay and those like him who desperately need and certainly deserve our help,” he said on the House floor.
While the Clay Hunt bill failed to become law in the last Congress, other pieces of legislation were enacted to help eliminate military suicides, including one from Sen. Joe Donnelly, Indiana Democrat, that requires a yearly mental health check for all active-duty and reserve troops.