The Senate today passed legislation aiming to lower the amount of veteran suicides in the United States at time when as many as an estimated 22 veterans take their own lives each day.
With a vote of 99-0, the Senate approved the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which has already passed the House of Representatives and will now head to the president’s desk.
A 2013 study released by the Department of Veterans Affairs found that between 18 and 22 veterans commit suicide each day.
The bill will increase veterans’ access to mental healthcare, including creating a new website for veterans to obtain information about mental health services and forming a pilot community outreach program to help veterans as they transition from the battlefield to their homes.
The legislation also establishes a pilot loan repayment program for psychiatrists working at the VA.
The legislation was named after Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who earned a Purple Heart after being struck in his wrist by a sniper’s bullet while serving in Anbar Province. After he was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2009, Hunt suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and became an advocate for fellow veterans. Hunt struggled with obtaining proper care through the VA and ultimately ended his own life in 2011.
“Despite his proactive and open approach to seeking care to address his injuries, the VA system did not adequately address his needs,” Susan Selke, Hunt’s mother, said at a Capitol Hill hearing last summer. “Not one more veteran should have to go through what Clay went through at the VA after returning home from war. Not one more parent should have to testify before a congressional committee to compel the VA to fulfill its responsibilities to those who have served and sacrificed.”
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American have long lobbied for passage of the bill.
“This no nonsense bill not only will help save lives, but also honor the obligation the government made to our veterans when they put on the uniform. With its passage, our country can begin to curb the alarmingly high veteran suicide rate. And we can’t wait any longer as 22 veterans die by suicide every day,” IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff said Monday.