Rep. Huffman Applauds Passage of New Measure to Prevent Veteran Suicides

December 11, 2014

WASHINGTON­—Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) applauded the unanimous House passage of bipartisan legislation to address the epidemic of suicide among our nation’s veterans. 

“Many of our veterans return from war facing traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder, or mental health challenges. Too many don’t receive the care they need and, tragically, take their own lives,” Huffman said. “The passage of this bipartisan legislation brings us one step closer to ensuring our veterans receive the care they need and deserve. I know that our work is not done and we need to keep working to guarantee the United States meets the solemn commitments it made to its veterans.”

Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day – more than 8,000 every year.  Of the more than 2 million Americans who have served in combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is estimated that one-third, roughly 600,000 women and men, have traumatic brain injury, PTSD or depression.  Named in honor of an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran and noted suicide prevention advocate who took his own life on March 31, 2011, The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (H.R. 5059) is another step toward ensuring our nation’s veterans have the support they need by expanding access to and improving the effectiveness of mental health care for our veterans.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will establish a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services.  To ease access to services, the bill will require the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all mental health services for veterans.  A student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists included in the legislation will help address the shortage of mental health care professionals.  To improve care, the legislation will require an annual, third-party evaluation of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not. 

The bill was introduced by Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress and co-authored by Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a Purple Heart recipient, Iraq War veteran, and member of the Army National Guard.

Last June, Huffman voted for the Veterans Access, Choice & Accountability Act of 2014 (H.R. 3230), which would provide accountability and access to care for veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. H.R. 3230, which was signed into law by President Obama, provided $15 billion in emergency funding to the VA. The $15 billion in emergency funding includes $10 billion for expanded health care options for veterans and $5 billion to bolster care within the VA. It also gives the VA Secretary the power to quickly remove incompetent senior executives based on poor job performance and ends a number of policies that allowed for this disgraceful state of affairs to occur.

Huffman also recently met with the new Secretary to discuss solutions to the claims backlog and improved healthcare for veterans in rural communities.