Today, Speaker Boehner will sign H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (Clay Hunt SAV Act).  The Speaker will be joined by Clay Hunt’s parents, Susan and Richard Selke, and other House and Senate leaders on veterans’ issues.  It will then be sent to the president’s desk for his signature.

Clay Hunt was a Marine veteran who served in Iraq, where he was awarded a Purple Heart, and later on redeployed to Afghanistan.  After returning home, he dedicated his life to helping others put their lives back together – volunteering in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and working with fellow veterans dealing with the psychological and physical wounds of war.  Like many veterans, Clay struggled with the invisible wounds of war, and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.  And despite working to address his PTSD and depression head on, he was faced with inadequate resources and care.  At age 28, Clay took his own life.

Tragically, Clay’s story is all too common.  Veterans’ suicides are occurring at a rate of 22 per day.  As Clay’s mother, Susan Selke said, “Not one more veteran should have to go through what Clay went through.”

Susan is right.  Our veterans have selflessly served this country and they deserve a 21st century health care system.  Here is how the bill named in Clay’s honor will help prevent veterans’ suicides:

  • Increase access to mental health care by, among other things, creating a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members as well as a one-stop, interactive website of available resources.
  • Better meet the demand for mental health care by starting a pilot program to repay the loan debt of students in psychiatry so it is easier to recruit them to work at the VA.
  • Boost the accountability of mental health care by requiring an annual evaluation of DoD and VA suicide-prevention practices and programs.

These critical reforms have garnered the support of several veterans advocacy organizations, including the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America (IAVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), as well editorial boards across the country:

Rome News Tribune: “No matter how brave they are on the battlefield, some of our men and women who serve in uniform there cannot win their ‘war’ when they return home. At least, not without a lot of help. And this bill will help them find more of that help they so badly need — and deserve.”

The Iowa Gazette:  “That penstroke will bring some much-needed assistance to quell a quiet crisis — record numbers of suicides and suicide attempts among our nation’s veterans.”

New York Times:  “The legislation addresses an urgent problem, as the V.A. works to make improvements after last year’s scandal. An estimated 22 veterans kill themselves each day on average, according to the latest government data.”

Albany Herald: “One area where our returning men and women in the armed forces have needed more attention is mental health. The memories of what they have seen and experienced in America’s long wars have been hard for many to deal with as they attempt to transition to civilian life….The Clay Hunt Act is a big step…”