Vet Suicide Prevention Bill Passes Congress

The Senate today unanimously passed a bill aimed at preventing suicide among veterans. U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said it’s an important bill for Alaska, which has the highest number of vets per capita and also the highest rate of suicide.

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“As an officer in the Marine Corps both on active duty and in the Reserves, I’ve personally witnessed the struggles, at times tragic, that some of our servicemen and women undergo,” he said in a speech on the Senate floor.

The bill is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who killed himself 2011. The legislation calls for a review of military and VA suicide prevention programs, financial incentives to help recruit psychiatrists to the VA and a better website to show the mental health resources available.

According to the VA, some 22 veterans commit suicide each day. Sen. Sullivan said it’s a personal issue for him.

“The suicide of a young Alaskan marine under my command still haunts me. You always wonder: could I have done more?” he said in his Senate speech. He paused for 10 seconds, looking down at the podium, working to maintain composure. “With the proper awareness and resources, this marine might be alive today.”

Clay Hunt’s mom said almost the same thing about her son: “If he had had better care, he, maybe, would not be dead today,” Susan Selke said in an interview with NBC.

The bill passed the House last month, also unanimously, and now heads to the president for signature. The bill had widespread support last year, too, but was blocked by then-Sen. Tom Coburn, who objected to the cost: $22 million over five years. The Oklahoma Republican has since retired from office.

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Liz Ruskin covers Alaska issues in Washington as the network's D.C. correspondent. She was born in Anchorage and is a West High grad. She has degrees from the University of Washington and the University of Missouri School of Journalism in Columbia. She previously worked at the Homer News, the Anchorage Daily News and the Washington bureau of McClatchy Newspapers. She also freelanced for several years from the U.K. and Japan, in print and radio. Liz has been APRN’s Washington, D.C. correspondent since October 2013. She's @lruskin on Twitter. She welcomes your news tips at lruskin (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  | About Liz