The House on Monday passed legislation to help prevent veterans' suicides that failed to clear the last Congress due to now-retired Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnCongress must protect federal watchdogs Tom Coburn's annual gift to taxpayers Joe Biden still doesn't have a campaign theme MORE (R-Okla.).

Members of both parties overwhelmingly supported the bill by a vote of 403-0. It now heads to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved easily.


Coburn used his final days in Congress last month to block multiple bills with wide bipartisan support, including the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act and an energy efficiency measure. 

The House passed the measure by voice vote last month. But Coburn objected to passing the veterans bill by unanimous consent because he didn't think it would effectively hold the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA)accountable, arguing the programs authorized by the measure would be redundant. 

The bill is titled after a Marine veteran named Clay Hunt who took his own life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunt, who earned a Purple Heart for his military service, became an advocate for veterans on Capitol Hill when he returned home to the U.S. But he shot himself in 2011 as he struggled with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Lawmakers noted that thousands of veterans have committed suicide since then, with an average of 22 per day.

"Since we passed this legislation and it failed in the Senate, over 750 veterans have taken their own lives," said Rep. Tim WalzTimothy (Tim) James WalzMinnesota lawmakers blast pharmaceutical industry lawsuit over insulin affordability law Judge in George Floyd case tells attorneys, officials, family to limit public statements Internal watchdog investigating if Air Force improperly used plane to surveil protests: report MORE (D-Minn.), the bill's sponsor. "We can't wait another day."

Under the legislation, a third party would conduct an annual evaluation of the VA's mental health and suicide prevention programs. The measure would further establish a three-year pilot program to pay for psychiatrists' education loans if they work at the VA for at least two years. It would also allow the VA to jointly carry out its suicide prevention programs with nonprofits dedicated to promoting mental health.

House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff MillerJefferson (Jeff) Bingham MillerShould we defund the VA, too? How to celebrate Memorial Day during a global pandemic Purple Heart awards highlight need for continued focus on invisible wounds MORE (R-Fla.) argued the legislation would do more than simply give the department more funding.

"The last several years have seen significant increases in the Department of Veterans' Affairs mental health and suicide prevention budget, its staff and its programs. However, we have not seen a corresponding decrease in the number of our nation's heroes who take their own lives," Miller said. "We have got to do more to help these veterans."

The Congressional Budget Office estimated the measure would cost $22 million over five years.