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Clay Hunt Suicide Bill Returns to Senate

Clay Hunt (Photo: IAVA)

Legislation intended to prevent suicide among veterans was re-introduced in the Senate on Tuesday, where passage last month was thwarted by a single lawmaker's hold on the bill.

Sens. John McCain, R-Arizona, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, filed anew The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act one day after the House of Representatives – repeating its action from last year – overwhelmingly passed the bill.

The legislation is named for a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who committed suicide in 2011. He was 28.

Supporters of the measure vowed last month to reintroduce the bill as soon as Congress reconvened and to vote it through. Senate passage is expected this time around.

Just-retired Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, made blocking the $22 million bill his final act in the Senate. He claimed the bill duplicated services and programs the Veterans Affairs' Department already provides, and that in proposing the bill backers did not offset the cost with cuts to other budget items.

McCain, in a statement released on Tuesday, said the bill will consolidate and improve existing mental health programs, as well as provide new incentives to bring more psychiatrists in to treat veterans, and enhance resources for transitioning vets, especially those who were in combat.

"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," McCain said.

On average, according to VA figures, about 22 veterans take their lives each day.

Veterans groups and professional military associations criticized Coburn's actions in December and none so heatedly than Paul Rieckhoff, chief executive officer and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. Rieckhoff said Coburn's move will cost the lives of veterans.

"It's sickening to think another 22 veterans will die by suicide today and every day we fail to expand mental health care for our vets," Rieckhoff said.

-- Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com

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