Veterans Suicide Bill Finally Set To Pass On Monday Evening

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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After months of heartbreak and frustration, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a bill designed to slow down the epidemic of veteran suicides, is set to pass Congress at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

The bill, named after Clay Hunt, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who committed suicide back in 2011 after battling with the Department of Veterans Affairs for proper PTSD treatment, constitutes an attempt to reduce the number of veteran suicides, which currently total 22 per day.

A full 18 months after his death, the VA finally decided to boost Hunt’s PTSD disability rating to 100 percent after appeals. Current figures place veterans at 1 out of every 5 suicides in the nation. Annual, third-party reviews of military mental health facilities will now be required at the VA.

Also included is a pilot community outreach program meant to help members of the military integrate into civilian life. The legislation allows for additional incentives to attract psychiatrists to the Department of Veterans Affairs, notably a student loan repayment program.

“The number of veterans who take their own life after serving our country is staggering, and we must do all we can to bring that number way down,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a co-sponsor of the act. “Our veterans served our country bravely – and put their lives on the line for us – now we must match their commitment by providing them with the best mental health care possible. Improving and modernizing suicide prevention programs is an important step in the right direction.” Sens. Richard Blumenthal and John McCain are also co-sponsors.

“We’re making only a down-payment here,” Blumenthal said, referring to the need to further reform the VA, according to the CT Mirror.

Even though President Obama failed to specifically mention the legislation in his State of the Union address, Congress has pushed the legislation through at a remarkable rate, spurred on by the box office success of the film “American Sniper,” as well as pressure from non-profit groups like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (RELATED: Veterans Totally Shafted In Obama’s State Of The Union)

Last session, the legislation appeared to have a strong chance of passing, but then-Sen. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, stepped in and stonewalled the measure, citing fiscal concerns about the $22 million dollar cost. According to Coburn, the efforts listed in the act are redundant, as the VA already has programs to combat suicide.

“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,” said IAVA CEO and founder Paul Rieckhoff. “The VA and more than 20 veteran service organizations and partners supports its passage.”

Given wide bipartisan support, advocates are convinced that the bill will head to the president’s desk to be signed.

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