Earlier this week the President signed into law H.R. 203, the “Clay
Hunt SAV Act,” designed to strengthen the suicide prevention and
mental health treatment programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
This legislation, introduced but stalled in the last Congress, was fast-tracked
in this Congress. It was passed unanimously by the House last month, and
approved unanimously by the Senate earlier this week.
The legislation is named after Marine veteran Clay Hunt, a sniper who deployed
to Iraq and Afghanistan before committing suicide after leaving the Marine
Corps and unsuccessfully seeking mental health treatment from the VA.
Before signing the legislation, the President noted that Clay was “a
decorated Marine [who] served with distinction in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He suffered physical injuries that healed, and he suffered invisible wounds
that stayed with him.” To continue the good that Clay started, the
President said that “The best way to honor this young man who should
be here is to make sure that more veterans like him are here for all the
years to come and able to make extraordinary contributions, building on
what they’ve already done for our safety and our security.”
The Clay Hunt SAV Act requires the VA to:
- Evaluate its mental health and suicide prevention programs and report that
evaluation to Congress
- Publish a website that creates a centralized source of information for
veterans about VA’s mental health services
- Establish a pilot program for helping repay student loans for psychiatrists
who commit to serve at least two years with the VA
- Establish a pilot program in at least five VA Veterans Integrated Service
Networks (VISNs) to assist veterans transitioning from active duty and
to improve veterans’ access to mental health services, including
a community-based peer support network and a community outreach team
- Collaborate with nonprofit mental health organizations; and (6) extends
some veterans’ eligibility for VA hospital care.
The law, which is expected to require about $22 million over five years
to fund in its current form, cannot be funded by additional appropriations.
Veteran suicide and mental health issues are an acute and growing problem.
The official VA figure is that an estimated 22 veterans take their own
lives daily. However, that number is not widely considered reliable and
other organizations put the number at closer to 35 per day. Even that
number does not capture the magnitude of the problem. A USA Today story
says that the national VA Suicide Prevention Line was getting roughly
17,000 calls per month as of June 2012, with about 4,500 of those contemplating
suicide. Framed strictly in terms of veterans who are considering suicide
and reaching out for help, that is an alarming number. And those numbers
do not include the uncounted veterans suffering in silence.
The suicide data also do not capture the number of veterans suffering other
serious mental health issues, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, or those
veterans diagnosed with service-related mental trauma who are being overmedicated
with dangerous and harmful psychotropic drugs. Both of those phenomena
claim untold lives daily.
The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service applauds the bipartisan support
for the Clay Hunt SAV Act. The firm also praises any effort that publicizes
the grossly inadequate services available for our veterans facing mental
health issues. For that reason, enactment of the Clay Hunt SAV Act is
to be commended. However, we cannot rest on this issue.
The Clay Hunt SAV Act commits roughly $4.4 million per year to the issues
of veterans suicide prevention and mental health. While that is an improvement
when compared to $0, it does not begin to address the chasm between needed
and available services. Much more needs to be done. Furthermore, the scope
of this issue can only be expected to increase. As more and more troops
are committed to and return from conflict zones, veterans mental health
issues will not abate. Our veterans have served us and we must serve them.
One of The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service’s Founding Partners,
Eric S. Montalvo, is a veteran of three wars. He understands the stresses
of military service and the challenges faced by returning veterans. He
is also a recognized authority on the issue of veterans’ mental
health, having been an invited speaker at numerous conferences and forums
at which veterans’ mental health issues were discussed. To help
address veterans’ PTSD, TBI, and other mental health issues, Mr.
Montalvo established Warrior Relief, a non-profit dedicated to a three-pillar
approach to resolving those issues. More information will be available
about Warrior Relief in coming weeks.
If you are a veteran facing legal problems associated with service-related
mental health issues, The Federal Practice Group Worldwide Service may
be able to help. We represent veterans with disability claims, military
pay entitlement, correction of military records, and other legal issues.
Contact us today for a case evaluation.