House Again Backs Bill to Lower Suicide Rate Among Vets

Clay Hunt (Photo: IAVA)

WASHINGTON — For the second time in five weeks, the House has approved a bill aimed at reducing a suicide epidemic that claims the lives of 22 military veterans every day.

A bill named for Clay Hunt, a 26-year-old veteran who killed himself in 2011, was approved unanimously Monday.

The bill would require the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs and would establish a website to provide information on mental health services available to veterans. It also would offer financial incentives to psychiatrists who agree to work for the VA and assist veterans transitioning from active duty.

The House approved a virtually identical bill last month, but the measure was blocked in the Senate by then-Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.

Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn., called the bill urgently needed. The suicide rate among veterans is about triple the average rate for the general population.

"While no piece of legislation will completely end this heartbreaking epidemic, we cannot stand idly by while more of our heroes struggle with the invisible wounds of war," Walz said. "We must take action. We can and must work urgently to send this bill to the president's desk without delay."

Clay Hunt's mother, Susan Selke, praised House members for "putting party labels and partisan bickering aside and getting behind this important bill. We don't want another veteran to experience the difficulties Clay faced when he sought care."

The bill now goes to the Senate.

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