Walz, Miller, Duckworth Introduce Comprehensive Legislation to Tackle Veteran Suicide
Bipartisan bill, authored by the trio of lawmakers, is supported by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the VFW
Washington, DC [7/10/14] – Today, Representatives Tim Walz (D-MN), Chairman of the VA Committee Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) announced the introduction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (Clay Hunt SAV) Act, a comprehensive bill to prevent veteran suicide and help our nations heroes who may be struggling get the care and support they need. According to statistics, it is estimated that 22 veterans are lost to each day to suicide.
The legislation is named in honor of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran and suicide prevention advocate Clay Hunt. Hunt epitomized what it meant to live a life of service, both in and out of uniform. Hunt, who helped countless veterans overcome their demons, tragically took his own life in March of 2011. The legacy he left behind, however, will live on for generations to come.
“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many,” said Rep. Walz. “While the wars overseas may be ending, all too often our heroes return only to face a war of their own at home. While there is no bill that will completely end veteran suicide, this comprehensive, bipartisan measure is a step in the right direction. I’m proud to have worked with Chairman Miller, Rep. Duckworth, a combat veteran herself, IAVA, and the VFW to introduce this bipartisan, important legislation. I urge my colleagues to support this measure so that we can pass it quickly into law.”
“The key to curbing the epidemic of veteran suicides is improving the accessibility and effectiveness of mental health care available to our returning heroes. Over the past seven years, VA's mental health care staff and budget have grown by nearly 40 percent, but the fact remains, veterans are still committing suicide at a frightening pace. This slow-motion national tragedy is likely to continue as long as the Department of Veterans Affairs sticks to its normal, business-as-usual approach of treating veterans where and how VA wants as opposed to where and how veterans want,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will help create a greater accounting of available services and an enhanced community approach to delivering veterans suicide prevention and mental health care treatment, which is why I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting it.”
“As a nation, we have a commitment to our Veterans to make sure that they receive the care that they need, and that means reducing barriers to care however we can. When an average of 22 Veterans commit suicide every day, we are failing them,” said Rep. Duckworth. “I am proud to join with Congressman Walz and Chairman Miller in introducing this legislation that is a crucial step in reducing Veterans suicide.”
“The Clay Hunt SAV Act will change thousands of lives for the better by providing access to top-quality mental health care. We salute Chairman Miller, Congressman Walz, and Congresswoman Duckworth for their leadership on this issue,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “With work days on the Congressional calendar dwindling, we urge Congress to move swiftly to pass this legislation before August recess. Taking this step to reverse the suicide trend among our veterans should be a priority, not a political fight. Congress must pass this bill as soon as possible. Our veterans cannot afford to wait for summer recesses and election campaigns. They deserve action now.”
“The VFW is proud to support the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which includes suggestions that we brought to Congress from those on the ground - the military community, mental health care providers, family caregivers, and the veterans who face the effects of mental health wounds every day,” Raymond C. Kelly, VFW Director of National Legislative Service said. “Veterans’ suicide is a national crisis, and we thank Chairman Miller and Representatives Walz, and Duckworth for their leadership in facing this complex problem.”
The Clay Hunt SAV Act will help address the veteran suicide epidemic in our nation by:
Increasing Access to Mental Health Care:
- Amends the requirements for reviewing potentially improper discharge characterizations of individuals diagnosed with PTSD or TBI so that vets can get full access to the care they have earned—this language is similar to a Walz bill, HR 975, the Servicemembers Mental Health Review Act.
- Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all mental health services for veterans.
Increasing Capacity to Meet the Demand for Mental Health Care:
- Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.
- Requires the DoD and National Guard to review the staffing requirements for Directors of Psychological Health in each state.
Improving the Quality of Care for Troops and Veterans:
- Requires a yearly evaluation, conducted by a third party, of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the DoD and VA to find out what’s working and what’s not working and make recommendations to improve care.
Providing Continuous, Seamless Care to Troops and Veterans:
- Establishes a strategic relationship between the VA and the National Guard to facilitate a greater continuity of care between the National Guard and the VA.
- Authorizes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the transition of care for PTSD and TBI between the DoD and the VA.
Developing Community Support for Veterans:
- Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services.
Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), spent 24 years in the Army National Guard and is the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress. Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) has been serving in the National Guard for 22 years and is currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.