Senate Passes VA Suicide Prevention Bill, Sends to Obama To Sign
On Tuesday, the Senate voted 99-0 to pass a bill (HR 203) aimed at reducing suicide among veterans, the AP/Washington Times reports. About 22 veterans commit suicide every day, according to the AP/Times (Daly, AP/Washington Times, 2/3).
The Clay Hunt Act, named for a veteran who committed suicide, passed in the House last session. However, now-retired Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) blocked its passage in the Senate, saying the Department of Veterans Affairs already had resources to address the issue but was failing to use them adequately. However, the measure was re-introduced last month and passed unanimously in the House (Keslin, Wall Street Journal, 2/3).
The bill would:
- Require annual outside evaluations of VA mental health and suicide prevention programs (Daly, AP/U-T San Diego, 1/12);
- Establish a peer support pilot program to help match returning veterans with colleagues to discuss mental health concerns;
- Create an interactive website that would house mental health and suicide prevention resources for veterans and their families;
- Extend the period under which returning combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan can obtain VA health care without proving a service-related disability; and
- Address the department's difficulty recruiting psychiatrists by offering student loan repayment (Oppel, New York Times, 2/3).
The measure is expected to cost about $24 million and would be paid for with VA funding (Matishak, The Hill, 2/3)
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the president "strongly supports" the bill and will sign it, according to the Journal (Wall Street Journal, 2/3).
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America CEO Paul Rieckhoff said the bill's passage marked "a tremendous day for our community," adding the measure "gives many veterans the new hope they so desperately need and demonstrates that our leaders are willing to give veterans the care they deserve" (The Hill, 2/3).
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called the bill "an important step in improving life-saving mental health care services" for veterans but said the U.S. "has much work still to do to fulfill its responsibilities for our veterans" (AP/Washington Times, 2/3).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.