(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today reintroduced The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act, bipartisan legislation that would improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for American service members. The bill, which passed the House of Representatives yesterday, will now proceed to the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs for consideration.
“It is unacceptable that an estimated 22 American veterans commit suicide every day,” said Senator McCain. “This bill would consolidate and improve existing mental health programs, provide new incentives to attract more psychiatrists to treat veterans through the VA, and enhance resources for transitioning veterans, especially combat veterans. Our nation has a long way to go to decrease the rate of suicide among our returning service members, but this bill is an important step toward improving the care we provide to the men and women who have sacrificed for all of us.”
“I am proud to join with Senator McCain today to reintroduce The Clay Hunt SAV Act as my first piece of legislation this Congress,” said Senator Blumenthal. “The Senate should act today to honor all veterans with this legislation, which provides one more opportunity to deliver help –and hope – to heroes who need and deserve it. Every day in the United States, 22 veterans succumb to suicide – losing their personal battle to invisible wounds of war. The Clay Hunt SAV Act is named for a single brave veteran who lost that battle. By improving and modernizing suicide prevention programs available, it honors the memory of every serviceman and woman who has struggled with mental health issues.”
The bill would require a third-party evaluation of existing suicide prevention programs at the Department of Defense and the VA to gauge their effectiveness and make recommendations for consolidation, elimination or improvement. It would also provide for a new website that offers veterans information regarding available mental health care services; create a pilot loan repayment program for VA psychiatrists; improve the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA and non-profit mental health organizations to enhance collaboration of suicide prevention efforts; create a community outreach pilot program to help veterans transition from active duty service; and extend the ability for certain combat veterans to enroll in the Veterans Health Administration for one year.
The legislation is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. Clay enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2005 and deployed to Anbar Province, near Fallujah, in January 2007. He was shot in the wrist by a sniper’s bullet that barely missed his head, earning him a Purple Heart. Clay recuperated at Twenty Nine Palms, CA and then graduated from Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in March 2008. He redeployed to southern Afghanistan a few weeks later. His unit returned in late October of 2008 and he was honorably discharged from the Marines in April 2009. After returning home, Clay suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for many years and struggled with inadequate care at his local VA hospital before taking his own life.
The Senate bill was also cosponsored by Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (D-AR), Richard Burr (R-NC), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bob Casey (D-PA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Robert Menendez (D-NY), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Jon Tester (D-MT).