Congressman Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico’s Third District applauded the unanimous passage of legislation in the House last night to help prevent suicide among our nation’s veterans. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act expands access to mental health services and increases the capacity and efficiency of VA care to address the needs of veterans returning home from war. The bill passed the House last Congress, but did not receive a final vote in the Senate before the end of last session. It was reintroduced this month with Luján as a cosponsor.
“I applaud the swift passage of this important legislation after efforts to pass it in the Senate in December fell just short. I hope the Senate will act quickly to send it to the President’s desk,” Luján said. “With an estimated 22 veterans committing suicide every day – more than 8,000 each year, we are facing an epidemic that we cannot ignore. The brave men and women who have sacrificed so much to protect and defend our nation, our values, and our way of life must receive the support they need and have earned. An estimated 600,000 men and women who have served in combat have traumatic brain injury, PTSD, or depression, and we must have the capacity to ensure access to the vital mental health services that can help them heal from the wounds of war. This legislation is an important step forward, and must be part of our continuing effort to honor the service and sacrifice of our nation’s veterans.”
The legislation, which is named in honor of Marine Corporal Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart and dedicated suicide prevention advocate who tragically took his own life, includes a number of provisions to increase access to care. The bill:
- Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members with accessing VA mental health care services;
- Requires the VA to create a one-stop shot, interactive website to serve as a centralized information source regarding all mental health services to veterans;
- Takes steps to address 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 yearly evaluations, conducted by a third party, of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the DOD and VA to determine what is working and what is not working and to make recommendations to improve care; and
Veterans Service Organizations, including the Military Officers Association of American and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America have voiced support for the legislation.