Editorial: Help prevent suicides of vets

Published 11:39 am Thursday, December 4, 2014

Bipartisan bills moving through the U.S. House and Senate to address the suicide epidemic among veterans represent a good start to addressing this issue.

The legislation is aimed at shoring up some mental health programs for veterans and offers some incentives to hire more psychiatrists or speed up wait times for vets needing to see mental health professionals.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans legislation would require third parties to evaluate veterans’ mental health programs for their effectiveness, it would encourage psychiatrists to work for the VA through a student loan forgiveness plan and provide better and more coordinated care to Veterans who need mental health services.

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First District Congressman Tim Walz has authored the bill in the House with VA Committee Chairman Jeff Miller, R- Fla., and Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D- Ill., a combat veteran. The legislation is named after Marine Cpl. Clay Hunt, who was a longtime advocate for veterans’ mental health and who committed suicide in 2011.

With veterans committing suicide at a rate on average of 22 per day, the problem often revolves around access to the VA mental health system. The legislation calls for a third party to review all those programs and concentrate expanding the ones that are effective.

Reports show veterans can still wait more than a month to get into to see a VA doctor. That can be far too long for someone with an immediate mental health crisis. The demand for mental health services is growing exponentially while the available services are not keeping up.

Demand for mental health services at the VA grew from about 927,000 cases in 2006 to 1.4 million last year.

The Walz-sponsored legislation is similar to the Senate bill but it also requires more review of potentially improper discharge from the VA system if vets are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

The proposals also create easier access to veterans’ mental health services through a one-stop shop and centralized and coordinated websites.

— The Free Press of Mankato, Nov. 26

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