President Obama Signs Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act

On Thursday, February 12 , 2015, AFSP Vice President of Public Policy, John Madigan, and AFSP Manager of Federal Policy, Trevor Summerfield, attended the signing of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act in the East Room of the White House by President Barack Obama. AFSP Public Policy Council Member Carol Graham attended the signing as well, along with her husband Major General Mark Graham (ret), who was there representing Rutgers University.

Madigan praised President Obama for a public signing ceremony to highlight America’s need to reach out to all veterans who want or need access to quality mental health services. Madigan went on to say, “By attending today’s ceremony, Michelle Obama, along with numerous members of the House and Senate, joined together to show bi-partisan solidarity around the mental health needs of our veterans. We are the land of the free, because of the brave.”

While the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) spearheaded the legislation that increases access to mental health care for veterans, AFSP Field Advocates played an integral role in convincing their respective House and Senate members to support of this important bill. The historic legislation is named in honor of Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Clay Hunt, who died by suicide in the year of 2011. The bill was introduced by Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) with 53 co-sponsors from all represented political parties in Congress. For a list, of co-sponsors,click here. The bill was approved by the full Senate on February 3, 2015 in a vote of 99-0 after passing in the House of Representatives 403-0 on January 12, 2015.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act will increase access to mental health care and capacity at VA to meet demand. It requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website which will serve as a list of resources regarding VA mental health services, authorizes the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting/retaining psychologists, and extends Combat-Eligibility for mental health services at the VA for one year, providing increased access for those suffering from PTSD. All VA mental health programs will be evaluated to help improve suicide prevention practices. In addition, a peer support and community outreach program will be established to assist those transitioning from active service by giving them access to VA mental health services.

Madigan thanked the parents of Clay Hunt who fought tirelessly to get the legislation passed in both houses. Susan Selke, Clay Hunt’s mother, released a statement saying, “No veteran should have to wait or go through bureaucratic red tape to get the mental health care they earned during their selfless service to our country. While this legislation is not a 100 percent solution, it is a huge step in the right direction.”

John Madigan reiterated “With veterans accounting for one out of every five suicides in our country, passage of the Clay Hunt Act is a major victory not just for veterans but for the larger fight against suicide. AFSP has set the bold goal of reducing the annual suicide rate by 20% in 2025, and it is legislation like the Clay Hunt SAV Act that will make it happen. AFSP thanks those who supported the bill and looks forward to working with Paul Rieckhoff and the IAVA on the implementation of this historic legislation.”

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