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Bill Targets Soaring Veteran Suicide Rates

PHOTO: On average, about 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide each 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 veterans suffering from PTSD and other emotional distress. Photo credit: Taliesin/Morguefile.
PHOTO: On average, about 22 U.S. military veterans commit suicide each 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 veterans suffering from PTSD and other emotional distress. Photo credit: Taliesin/Morguefile.
February 3, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - The U.S. Senate could vote Tuesday on legislation to improve mental health services for veterans in Indiana and throughout the nation. A Monday vote was postponed due to bad weather in parts of the country.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act would provide funding to evaluate the mental health and suicide prevention programs of the Veterans Administration (VA) and Defense Department, and improve training and enhance collaboration. Jayce Elliston, a Gulf War veteran who lives with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), says almost two dozen vets take their own lives every day.

"It's a massive problem," says Elliston. "Twenty-two a day is unconscionable. It's got to be changed, and anything we can do to make it better with a review of the systems 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 veteran who struggled with PTSD and committed suicide in 2011 at age 28.

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

"Imagine a person that takes another person's life. You deal with emotional issues for the rest of your life - trying to quantify and trying to put meaning to what you did," says Elliston. "Some people have a 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.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN