Defense

VA suicide bill heads to full Senate

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at strengthening efforts to prevent suicides among military veterans.

The panel, in its first organizational meeting of the new Congress, voted 15-0 for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, named after a Marine Corps veteran who took his life after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

{mosads}The bill nearly became law in the last Congress, but final passage was blocked by then-Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). The reintroduced measure sailed through the House earlier this month and will now go to the full Senate for consideration.

“When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide — which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we’ve been fighting — then you have a serious problem and this is emergency legislation that we need to pass to help our veterans,” committee Chairman Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) said in a statement.

The legislation calls for independent evaluations of suicide prevention programs in the Veterans Affairs and Defense departments. The review would determine which efforts are successful or should be eliminated.

The bill would also create a website detailing mental healthcare services and start a pilot program to repay student loan debt for those who study psychiatric medicine and commit to working at the VA.

Isakson announced that the panel would visit at least two VA facilities around the country where there have been serious problems with wait times for veterans seeking medical care or major construction cost overruns.

He also said he would have a meeting with VA Secretary Robert McDonald and other agency officials some time next month.

“I’ve always felt like if I’m out of sight, out of mind, nobody cares what I think,” according to Isakson. “But if they know I care enough to go to them and ask questions and have the committee there, we are going to be a better committee for it and the veterans choice bill is going to get implemented because they know we’re watching.”

Tags Johnny Isakson Tom Coburn

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