President Obama is expected to sign a veteran suicide prevention bill today authored by 1st DFL District Rep. Tim Walz.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act unanimously passed the House and Senate in January. The bill's successful passage came after Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn blocked the bill in December due to concerns about its cost and whether it was duplicating existing efforts. Coburn retired and the bill's supporters renewed their efforts to get it passed.
Walz said in a statement it is fitting the bill is being signed on the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln.
"As Lincoln said during his second inaugural address, we must always remember our solemn obligation to care for those ‘who shall have borne the battle.’ This bill takes an important step forward to fulfill this responsibility, and, after pushing this legislation for the past year, I’m honored and humbled to be present when the President signs it into law,” Walz said.
The legislation is named for Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Clay Hunt, a Texas Marine who took his own life in 2011. An estimated 22 veterans take their own lives every day, according to a 2012 study from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Walz's bill would require a third-party review of all of the VA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs to figure out which programs are working and which ones are not. The bill also would establish a peer and community outreach pilot program aimed at helping service members transitioning back to civilian life. Lastly, it would attempt to address a shortage of psychiatrists in the VA system by establishing a student loan repayment program.