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House Passes Clay Hunt SAV Act

Historic IAVA-led Bill to Prevent Veteran Suicide Now Heads to Senate

Washington D.C. (December 9, 2014) – The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act (H.R. 5059) passed unanimously in the House today by a voice vote. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) spearheaded the bill, named after Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Clay Hunt, a Marine who died by suicide in 2011. IAVA now turns to the Senate and calls on Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to bring the bill to the floor for immediate passage.

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Reps. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) introduced the bill in July.

“We salute the House members for putting party labels and partisan bickering aside and getting behind this important bill. We don’t want another veteran to experience the difficulties Clay faced when he sought care,” said Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt. “Richard and I hope the Senate can now move swiftly and galvanize bipartisan support to ensure our veterans are not waiting to get the resources they desperately need. This bill will save lives, and veterans who are struggling don’t have time to wait.”

Since the beginning of 2014 IAVA has been a leading voice for the post-9/11 veteran community, calling on members of Congress, the White House, Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense to address veteran suicide.

“IAVA welcomes this tremendous next step in getting the Clay Hunt SAV Act to the President’s desk and especially applauds Chairman Miller, and Reps. Walz and Duckworth for their leadership in combating veteran suicide,” said IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff. “Today’s vote is the result of a year of IAVA-driven action that brought the epidemic of veteran suicide out of the shadows and into the public spotlight. But now we need the Senate to step up and follow the House’s lead. Twenty-two veterans continue to die by suicide each day. Our veterans deserve the 21st Century care we promised them when they put on the uniform.”

“Despite record mental health staffing and budget levels at the Department of Veterans Affairs, today’s veterans are falling victim to the invisible wounds of war all too often. An average of 18 to 22 veterans take their own lives each day – a heartbreaking statistic that has remained unchanged for more than a decade. In passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, the House took an important step toward putting an end to this grim status quo,” Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, said. “The Clay Hunt SAV Act will ensure VA’s mental health and suicide prevention efforts receive crucial independent, third party oversight while creating a greater accounting of available services and fostering an enhanced community approach to delivering veterans suicide prevention and mental health care treatment, which is why I urge my colleagues in the Senate to join me in supporting it.”

“The Clay Hunt SAV Act represents a major step forward in the fight to end veteran suicide. I’m pleased the House took action and moved it forward today. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the same without delay. Let’s work together to send this bipartisan bill to the President for his signature,” Rep. Tim Walz, the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress, said. “The fight, however, does not end after this bill becomes law. There is still more that must be done to improve mental health care for our veterans. I will continue working with my colleagues in Congress, veterans, and veterans’ advocates to ensure that improving care for our warriors remains a top priority.”

“Currently, there are over two million post-9/11 veterans across the country, and this number will only increase as our military force structure continues to draw down. As the nature of war changes, the injuries our warriors sustain also change. Increasingly, theirs are invisible wounds, which do not have simple treatment and do not always manifest immediately,” Rep. Tammy Duckworth said. “Just as these veterans remained faithful to our country on the battlefield, it is our turn as their Representatives to remain faithful to them and it is our responsibility as a nation to, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, ‘care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.’ This responsibility includes ensuring that when our service men and women make the brave decision to seek help, they get the quality assistance and treatment they deserve in a timely manner. I am proud to that this bipartisan legislation takes a crucial step in reducing veteran suicide.”

The Clay Hunt SAV Act will:

● Increase access to mental health care by, among other things, creating a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers as well as a one-stop, interactive website of available resources.

● Better meet the demand for mental health care by starting a pilot program to repay the loan debt of students in psychiatry so it is easier to recruit them to work at the VA.

● Boost the accountability of mental health care by requiring an annual evaluation of DoD and VA suicide-prevention practices and programs.

Note to media: Email press@iava.org or call 212-982-9699 to speak with IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff or IAVA leadership.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (www.IAVA.org) is the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization (VEO) with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America. As a non-profit founded in 2004, IAVA’s mission is to connect, unite and empower post-9/11 veterans. Celebrating its 11th year anniversary, IAVA has connected more than 1.2 million veterans with resources and community, and provided more than 5,800 veterans with personalized support from IAVA’s Master’s level social workers.