It didn’t take long for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to get down to business. In its first official meeting under new Chairman Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson, the committee voted unanimously on Wednesday to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The bill now heads towards a full Senate vote. It was passed by the House earlier this month, and Senator Isakson hopes the bill will become the first one President Obama signs in 2015.
Following committee passage of the bill, Isakson said,
When you have 8,000 veterans a year committing suicide – which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we’ve been fighting – then you have a serious problem and this is emergency legislation that we need to pass to help our veterans.
Stars and Stripes has some background on the bill’s history, and what it will do for America’s veterans:
Veteran groups and Clay Hunt’s parents have backed the measure since it was first introduced last year. Hunt served in Iraq and Afghanistan and struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, becoming one of the 22 veterans who commit suicide each day.
Despite widespread support among lawmakers, the bill failed in the last congressional session because retiring budget hawk Tom Coburn blocked a final vote in the Senate. The Oklahoma Republican had objected to the $22 million price tag, which supporters say is small in terms of the federal budget.
Isakson, who is a veteran himself, has been on the Veteran’s Affairs Committee since being sworn in a a Senator in 2005. Named committee chair this year following the Republicans winning the Senate majority, Isakson pledged bipartisanship for the committee’s actions.
As I’ve said many times in Atlanta at the VA hospital, we don’t just have Republican veterans and Democrat veterans, we have American veterans. This committee is about serving the veterans of the United States of America regardless of their race, creed, color, national origin or their political affiliation. This is going to be the most bipartisan committee in the United States Senate because … those that sacrifice themselves for our country need to be rewarded with the best possible health care available and the best services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For more information on the issue of veterans’ suicides, and how veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan eras have a higher risk of suicide, the Hartford Courant has some in-depth information.