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Snow Delays Senate’s Vote on Veteran Suicide Prevention Bill

Clay Hunt (Photo: IAVA)

The Senate's expected passage of a bill to help prevent suicide among veterans has been delayed because of snow.

Lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act at 5:30 pm on Monday, but Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced when the chamber convened late in the day it would instead be taken up Tuesday morning.

Winter storms across the Midwest up through New York and New England - up to 2 feet in some areas - have caused flight cancellations and made ground travel hazardous. The Senate's morning business schedule did not even begin until 4 pm.

"The legislation we'll vote on [Tuesday] would provide more than suicide prevention and mental health support our veterans deserve," McConnell said. "It would help veterans transition from active duty service and it would take steps to improve the effectiveness of heroes in need.

The House passed the bill unanimously last month, and McConnell said he hoped "we could achieve a similar result in the Senate."

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

The VA estimates that about 22 veterans die by suicide each day.

The Clay Hunt bill was headed for easy passage last year when it unexpectedly failed in the Senate. After the House had passed it overwhelmingly it died in the Senate after retiring Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, placed a hold on it, preventing the chamber from holding a vote.

Coburn claimed the bill duplicated existing Veterans Affairs Department programs and that its $22 million price tag was not offset by cuts in other programs.

Veterans groups and military associations condemned the lawmaker's action and vowed to see the bill reintroduced as soon as the new Congress convened earlier this month. With Coburn now out of Congress there appears no opposition to the bill.

Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, said after the unanimous committee vote that the full Senate would quickly pass the bill.

Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, addressed both those issues on Monday.

"We fixed the price problem by taking internally generated funds. That's done," Isakson said. "Secondly ... It's not duplicative. It's absolutely necessary and essential that we do what we're doing."

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

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