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U.S. Senate Considers Bill to Focus on Veteran Suicides

PHOTO: About 22 military veterans take their own lives every day, and legislation coming up for a vote this week in the U.S. Senate would prompt a third-party evaluation of the mental health and suicide prevention programs intended to help them. Image courtesy U.S. Defense Dept.
PHOTO: About 22 military veterans take their own lives every day, and legislation coming up for a vote this week in the U.S. Senate would prompt a third-party evaluation of the mental health and suicide prevention programs intended to help them. Image courtesy U.S. Defense Dept.
February 2, 2015

SANTA FE, N.M. – Military veterans in New Mexico and across the country may gain access to improved mental health services, if the U.S. Senate passes legislation linked to veteran suicide.

The Senate is expected to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act early this week.

It would provide funding to evaluate the mental health and suicide prevention programs of the Veterans Administration and the Defense Department, and improve training and enhance collaboration.

Jayce Elliston is a Gulf War veteran who lives with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He points out that almost two-dozen vets take their own lives every day.

"It's a massive problem,” he stresses. “Twenty-two a day is unconscionable. It's got to be changed, and anything that we can do to make it better, and a review of the systems that we have in place, is probably a great idea."

Elliston points out the numbers total about 8,000 veteran suicides per year. The legislation is named for a Marine Corps veteran who struggled with PTSD and committed suicide in 2011 at age 28.

Elliston says an entire generation of veterans is dealing with the lifelong impact of taking the lives of others in war, which he says has a profound effect on their own mental health.

"Imagine a person that takes another person's life,” he explains. “You deal with emotional issues for the rest of your life – trying to quantify and trying to put meaning to what you did – and some people have a real, real difficult time coming to terms with that."

The Clay Hunt bill passed unanimously in the House, and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee earlier this month.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - NM