In a rare convergence of human decency and common sense, Congress has passed a bill and President Obama will sign it. H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (Clay Hunt SAV Act), introduced by Rep. Timothy J. Waltz (D-MN), is named for a Marine Corps veteran and sniper who took his own life in 2011, after having served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was just one of the estimated 8,000 veterans who commit suicide each year, at the shocking rate of some 22 per day.
In a press release yesterday, Speaker of the House John Boehner’s office told Clay Hunt’s story:
Clay Hunt was a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, where he was awarded a Purple Heart, and later on redeployed to Afghanistan. After returning home, he dedicated his life to helping others put their lives back together – volunteering in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and working with fellow veterans dealing with the psychological and physical wounds of war. Like many veterans, Clay struggled with the invisible wounds of war, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. And despite working to address his PTSD and depression head on, he was faced with inadequate resources and care. At age 28, Clay took his own life.
Tragically, Clay’s story is all too common. Veterans’ suicides are occurring at a rate of 22 per day. As Clay’s mother, Susan Selke said, “Not one more veteran should have to go through what Clay went through.”
The House approved H.R. 203 on January 12 on a 403-0 vote. The bill passed the Senate on February 3 by a 99-0 vote, after being derailed last year by a single vote, that of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) who objected it would add $22 million to federal spending.
Having expressed strong support for the Clay Hunt Act, President Obama will sign the bill into law Thursday, reports The Hill, in a public signing ceremony in the East Room of the White House.
In its press release, Boehner’s office reported that Clay Hunt’s parents, Susan and Richard Selke, “and other House and Senate leaders on veterans’ issues” would be present when he signed H.R. 203:
This important legislation will help prevent suicides by veterans. As explained in the Speaker’s press release, it will:
- Increase access to mental health care by, among other things, creating a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members as well as a one-stop, interactive website of available resources.
- Better meet the demand for mental health care by starting a pilot program to repay the loan debt of students in psychiatry so it is easier to recruit them to work at the VA.
- Boost the accountability of mental health care by requiring an annual evaluation of DoD and VA suicide-prevention practices and programs.
As USAToday reports, “Part of this outreach involves helping colleges and universities aid veterans in transitioning into their communities,” though it “specifies neither the logistics of the pilot community outreach program, nor how it will affect colleges and universities.”
The Speaker’s office says that,
These critical reforms have garnered the support of several veterans advocacy organizations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), as well editorial boards across the country:
Rome News Tribune: “No matter how brave they are on the battlefield, some of our men and women who serve in uniform there cannot win their ‘war’ when they return home. At least, not without a lot of help. And this bill will help them find more of that help they so badly need — and deserve.”
The Iowa Gazette: “That penstroke will bring some much-needed assistance to quell a quiet crisis — record numbers of suicides and suicide attempts among our nation’s veterans.”
New York Times: “The legislation addresses an urgent problem, as the V.A. works to make improvements after last year’s scandal. An estimated 22 veterans kill themselves each day on average, according to the latest government data.”
Albany Herald: “One area where our returning men and women in the armed forces have needed more attention is mental health. The memories of what they have seen and experienced in America’s long wars have been hard for many to deal with as they attempt to transition to civilian life….The Clay Hunt Act is a big step…”
It is refreshing to see something good come out of Congress, something that will benefit all the men and women put in harm’s way in service of their country. We can argue over the morality of the wars they were sent to fight, but we cannot argue over what this country owes them in response. They should not be simply tossed aside like broken toys. The Clay Hunt Act should be a starting, but not an end point, in that cause.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.