Senate Passes Bennet-Backed Bill to Help Prevent Veteran Suicide

Washington, DC - Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today praised the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The bipartisan bill introduced last month offers several critical measures that would improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for American service members. Bennet is a cosponsor of the bill.

"Those in Colorado working to improve our behavioral health support for veterans have recommended that we take steps to increase opportunities for veteran-to-veteran support and that we help facilitate seamless collaboration between those serving veterans in communities around the country," Bennet said. "This bill would take steps to be responsive to both of those recommendations."

The bill would establish a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members with access VA mental health care services and improve the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA and non-profit mental health organizations to enhance collaboration of suicide prevention efforts.

The bill would also require a third-party evaluation of existing suicide prevention programs at the Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to gauge their effectiveness and make recommendations for consolidation, elimination, or improvement and provide for a new website that offers veterans information regarding available mental healthcare services and create a pilot loan repayment program for VA psychiatrists.

The bill was named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in March 2011 at the age of 28. Clay enlisted in the Marine Corps in May 2005 and deployed to Anbar Province, near Fallujah, in January 2007. He was shot in the wrist by a sniper's bullet that barely missed his head, earning him a Purple Heart. Clay recuperated at Twenty Nine Palms, CA and then graduated from Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in March 2008. He redeployed to southern Afghanistan a few weeks later. His unit returned in late October of 2008 and he was honorably discharged from the Marines in April 2009. After returning home, Clay suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) for many years. He and struggled with inadequate care at his local VA hospital before taking his own life.

Bennet has worked tirelessly with Colorado's veterans community to look for ways to improve services and job opportunities for returning service members. In response to a recommendation from his statewide Veterans Working Group, Bennet created a Veterans Suicide Panel to take a comprehensive look at mental health issues affecting veterans and develop concrete recommendations for addressing the issue. He has also introduced the bipartisan Improving Job Opportunities for Veterans Act to improve incentives for private employers to hire veterans.

In 2011, Bennet convened a Colorado Veterans Forum to identify ways to make Colorado the best state for service members, veterans, and their families to live and work. The recommendations that emerged from that forum were included in a report released later that year: Better Serving Those Who Have Served.

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