WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today voted for the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (S.167), legislation he co-sponsored that would improve mental health and suicide prevention programs for military members and veterans. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 99 to 0, and will now go to the President’s desk.
“I applaud Congress for giving swift, strong bipartisan support to those who have served in our military by sending the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act to the President’s desk,” Inhofe said. “From 2005-2012 the annual suicide rate among veterans in Oklahoma increased by 34 percent, totaling 1,018 veteran suicide deaths during this time. An average of 127 deaths per year is not acceptable. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for Americans bill maintains our nation’s promise to its veterans to help them access the best mental health and suicide prevention programs available. The legislation accomplishes this by providing opportunities for the VA to work collaboratively with local community organizations. The bill will also require an evaluation of the various mental health care programs to identify the efficiencies, or lack thereof, and allow the VA to compete in recruiting necessary supporting staff. Many of our veterans have, and continue to pay, the price for us and our great nation. It is our duty to honor the promises made to our veterans in return for their sacrifices.”
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) experiences challenges in recruiting psychiatrists because they are unable to compete with the private sector, therefore this bill serves as an incentive for psychiatrists to work for the VA. The bill authorizes no additional funds to be appropriated. Instead, it provides Congressional oversight of the VA while requiring the Department to leverage resources it already has to improve its care of veterans.
The legislation accomplishes the following:
- Calls for a 2 year evaluation of mental health care and suicide prevention programs of the VA by an independent third party;
- Creates a publication of an internet website of the VA to provide information regarding mental health care services as a centralized source of information for veterans;
- Creates a 3 year pilot program for repayment of educational loans up to $30,000 for psychiatrists that agree to serve for 2 years or more of obligated service for the Veterans Health Administration, and prohibits an individual participating in another federal program that repays education loans from simultaneously using this program;
- Calls for a minimum of 5 year pilot program on community outreach to improve access of veterans to mental health services;
- Calls on a collaboration on suicide prevention efforts between the VA and non-profit mental health organizations that will provide the exchange of training session and best practices to help with suicide prevention.