Daines Lauds Bipartisan Passage of Bill to Address Veteran Suicide

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Steve Daines today hailed the bipartisan, unanimous passage of legislation to help prevent veteran suicide and improve veterans’ access to mental healthcare services.

Daines is a cosponsor of The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. This bipartisan legislation aims to improve veterans’  access to mental healthcare and suicide prevention resources and increase accountability and quality of care at VA hospitals.   

“The tragic epidemic of veteran suicide will continue unless we take concrete steps to improve our veterans’ access to the care they need and increase community support for those who are suffering from mental health wounds,” Daines stated. “Our men and women in uniform deserve to know that when they return home, we will be standing with them and working tirelessly to ensure that their mental health and medical needs are met.”

The legislation is named for Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who committed suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act would require annual third-party evaluations of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DOD) programs and practices relating to mental health and suicide prevention. The evaluations would identify the most effective programs and rate the cost-effectiveness of each to ensure resources are being applied in the most efficient way to assist veterans.

The bills also call for a review of the discharge characterizations for veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injuries to ensure they receive the care and benefits that they earned.

Additionally, the bill establishes a pilot program to address the shortage of mental health care availability through education loan repayment for current or soon-to-be mental health professionals who agree to a period of service in the VA.

It improves interaction between the VA, DOD and state Reserve components to provide seamless care as service members retire or transition from active to inactive or reserve status and ensure none who need help “slip through the cracks.”

The legislation also increases the VA limits on matching funds from private donors for the Yellow Ribbon program for veterans who are pursuing an advanced degree in a field of study that leads to a job as a mental health professional. It also prioritizes rural positions for graduates seeking employment within the VA. The Yellow Ribbon program allows institutions of higher learning and the VA to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed a veteran’s maximum GI benefit.

Finally, the Clay Hunt SAV Act establishes community reintegration programs for veterans that leverage peer-to-peer networks and creates an easy-to-use website to promote mental health services that are available to veterans.

Daines has long been an advocate for improving veterans’ access to health care services and working to prevent veteran suicide. In the House, Daines served as an original cosponsor of H.R. 5059, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in the 113th Congress.

The House passed this bipartisan legislation on January 12, 2015, and it now heads to President’s desk where it is expected to be signed into law.

Click here to read the full text of The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.