Rep. Walz slams Republican senator for blocking bill on vets' suicide prevention
(THE MED CITY BEAT) - Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) is criticizing Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) for blocking a bill designed to prevent suicides in the military.
"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," said Rep. Walz, who authored the bill. "I’m greatly disappointed that even this, the most bipartisan of measures, fell victim to politicking."
The Clay Hunt SAV Act passed the House last week, but Coburn was the final hurdle to passing the legislation. The Oklahoma Republican argued the goals of the bill are already covered under programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m going to be objecting to this bill because it actually throws money away,” Sen. Coburn said, according to a report by The Hill. “We’re the ones to blame for not holding the VA accountable."
The $22 million bill would have required the Pentagon and the VA to submit to independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs. The AP reports it would have also:
- Established a website to provide information on mental health services available to veterans
- Offered financial incentives to psychiatrists who agree to work for the VA
- Created a pilot program to assist veterans transitioning from active duty to veteran status
The measure is named for Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan veteran from Houston who took his own life in 2011. Hunt's parents have tried to persuade Sen. Coburn to change his mind, but without any luck.
An estimated 22 veterans take their life each day, the equivalent of a suicide every 65 minutes. A recent report by News21, an investigative multimedia program for journalism students, found the suicide rate for veterans increased an average of 2.6 percent a year from 2005 to 2011. That's more than double the rate of increase for civilian suicide.
“Make no mistake, the fight isn’t over," said Rep. Walz, who is the highest-ranking service member to ever serve in Congress. "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."