ABOVE PHOTO: Congressman Donald Norcross
WASHINGTON, DC – Late yesterday, Congressman Donald Norcross voted to support the House passage of H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. Named after a marine veteran who took his own life in 2011, this legislation seeks to end our nation’s growing veteran suicide epidemic that is estimated to claim 22 lives every day.
“Countless veterans are suffering from the mental health effects of combat – and just as they answered the call to serve and protect our freedom, we need to act now to provide them with the services they need to overcome these challenges,” said Congressman Norcross who was appointed to the House Armed Services Committee last week. “By delivering better access to mental health services, we can help streamline the care veterans need and deserve before tragedy strikes.”
Hours after the bill’s passage, Congressman Norcross had an opportunity to meet with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald to discuss ways to improve health care services for South Jersey’s veterans. The Secretary highlighted the increased episodes of traumatic brain injury, PTSD, and depression among veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act addresses these injuries by establishing a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services. To ease access to services, the bill will require the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all mental health services for veterans.
The bill also establishes a pilot program aimed to assist psychiatry students with their student loan debt as an effort to help address the shortage of mental health care professionals and retain the quality psychiatrists currently serving veterans. To improve care, the legislation will require an annual, third-party evaluation of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what’s working and what’s not.
The bill was introduced by Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN), the highest ranking enlisted soldier ever to serve in Congress and co-authored by Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (R-FL) and Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a Purple Heart recipient, Iraq War veteran, and member of the Army National Guard.