Blumenthal pushing to resurrect vets suicide prevention bill
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal pledged Tuesday to resurrect federal legislation designed to help prevent suicide among military veterans, calling it the nation’s obligation to improve mental health services for those returning from war.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was blocked last year by Republican Tom Coburn, who has since retired from the Senate.
Blumenthal, a Democrat, said he hopes the bill will be one of the first successful bipartisan votes by the new Senate, which opened Tuesday.
“Every day, 22 veterans take their own lives. They take their own lives largely because of unmet needs for help, mental health help that the United States has an obligation and solemn duty to address,” said Blumenthal, who spoke of a friend and Afghanistan veteran from southeastern Connecticut who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and took his own life in 2013.
“None of those 22 veterans who commit suicide today are destined inevitably to be victims of these inner demons. We can save them,” said Blumenthal, flanked by leaders of Connecticut veterans’ organizations.
The legislation, named for a decorated Marine veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress and committed suicide in 2011 at age 28, calls for more online and community outreach mental health services and an independent review of the Veterans Administration’s suicide prevention services. It also includes tuition assistance to attract psychiatrists to work with veterans.
Melvin Hewston, legislative chairman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Connecticut, said he was pleased the proposed legislation also calls for more peer groups to help veterans.
“We need to get those going more frequently,” he said. “It’s easier for a service member to talk about those demons ... to another veteran than it is to talk to an ordinary citizen.”