In November, the Washington Post reported in The legacy of Clay Hunt: Marine recalled in new suicide legislation:
Marine Cpl. Clay Hunt already was a survivor when he deployed to Afghanistan in 2008. An infantryman, he’d been wounded in the wrist by an enemy sniper in Iraq in 2007, just weeks after watching a fellow Marine sustain a mortal gunshot wound to the throat by another enemy marksman.
Hunt didn’t let his wounds in Iraq hold him back, though. He recovered, went to sniper school and then deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, a unit from Twentynine Palms, Calif., that quietly deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, before the troop “surge,” and was spread across 10,000 square miles in Helmand and Farah provinces. Sixteen Marines and a Navy corpsman were killed in combat, and scores were wounded. They eventually were reinforced with more troops sent from the United States.
Hunt left the Marine Corps afterward. He struggled with depression, panic attacks and post-traumatic stress but threw himself into veterans advocacy and humanitarian work, even traveling to Haiti in 2009 with other Marine veterans to help after a devastating earthquake.
Then it was over. Hunt, 28, committed suicide in Houston in 2011. Family and friends said he had been battling the Department of Veterans Affairs to get his disability rating upgraded from 30 percent, as he struggled to find employment and his marriage unraveled. He locked himself in his apartment and turned a gun on himself.
The WaPo went on to report that the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans Act had been introduced in the United States Senate and House. The House version, introduced in the House by MN01 Congressman Walz, passed on a voice vote on December 9. MSNBC's Steve Benen noted in House approves Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act:
Given just how little actually happens in Congress, and how many good bills die for no apparent reason, it’s easy to get a little cynical about what’s possible in the area of federal legislation.Once in a while, though, a good idea actually passes. Take this afternoon, for example.The House on Tuesday passed legislation to help prevent suicides of people who served in the military.Passed by voice vote, the bill would require a third party to conduct an annual evaluation of suicide prevention programs at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) and Defense Department.The measure was sponsored by Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), and enjoyed the enthusiastic support of veterans’ groups including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). There is no roll call to link to because support was broad enough that the bill passed by voice vote.To be sure, this wasn’t the highest-profile legislation to be taken up this year, and there wasn’t much of a lobbying campaign against it, but when worthwhile bills, which will make a real difference in the lives of people who deserve our support, are able to advance in this Congress, it’s cause for some relief.And the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act is a worthwhile bill. . . .
Unfortunately, retiring Senator Tom Coburn decided to put a block on having the bill brought to the floor of the Senate. The New York Post reports in In blocking veteran suicide prevention bill, Senate's retiring "Dr. No" goes out his way:
Leaving the Senate the way he has served in it for 10 years, retiring Sen. Tom Coburn said “no” Monday night to a bill aimed at improving efforts to stop military veteran suicides.Coburn, a family doctor, earned the nickname “Dr. No” for his habit of opposing even minor measures that would otherwise pass the Senate unanimously due to concern they would expand government or increase spending. He has often clashed with fellow Republicans, in part by holding up popular measures party leaders want to avoid fights over.On Monday, Coburn defied senators in both parties, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and conventional Washington wisdom that says opposing minor bills with appealing goals for hard-to-explain reasons is always a political mistake.Coburn objected to a motion to allow a vote on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, which requires annual outside reviews of suicide prevention efforts run by the Defense and Veterans Affairs Departments.
Coburn felt the measure duplicated existing efforts while not holding the Veterans Administration accountable.
In a statement issued today, Walz and other sponsors have vowed to renew the push for passage next year when the new congress convenes:
Today, Representative Tim Walz (D-MN), author of the bipartisan Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (Clay Hunt SAV) Act and highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, released the following statement after Senator Tom Coburn blocked the bill’s passage, despite it having overwhelming support from veterans, their advocates, Republicans, and Democrats.
“22 veterans per day take their own lives. That’s over 150 suicides per week, over 600 suicides per month, and over 8,000 suicides per year. There is no doubt this is a serious problem that must be addressed. That is why I, along with House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), introduced the Clay Hunt SAV Act. While not a cure all, this bipartisan bill is designed to help the VA provide better mental health care services and is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats, Servicemembers and civilians. I’m greatly disappointed that even this, the most bipartisan of measures, fell victim to politicking.
“Make no mistake, the fight isn’t over. We will rally from this setback; I will reintroduce this important legislation immediately in the 114th Congress, and there is no doubt in my mind it will eventually become law. Unfortunately, we know for a number of veterans that wait will be too large a burden to bear. Each day we fail to address this problem, more veterans die. It’s incredibly disappointing that this commonsense legislation was stymied by the only Member of Congress in either the House or Senate who objects to the bill.
“I thank everyone who played a part in getting us this far: veterans, veterans service organizations, especially IAVA, my co-authors House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and, most importantly, Clay’s courageous parents, Susan and Richard Selke. The Selkes have taken a personal tragedy that many of us cannot even begin to imagine, persevered, and are working to make positive change. They truly represent the best of us.
“While today we may have lost the battle, be certain that we will win the war.”
Photo: Clay Hunt.
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