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Clay Hunt Bill "Improves Access" to Suicide Prevention for N.H. Vets

IMAGE: President Obama is expected to sign the Clay Hunt suicide prevention bill, which passed the Senate 99-0 Tuesday. Suicide prevention advocates say it will increase access to treatment in the Granite State. Image credit: Department of Veterans Affairs.
IMAGE: President Obama is expected to sign the Clay Hunt suicide prevention bill, which passed the Senate 99-0 Tuesday. Suicide prevention advocates say it will increase access to treatment in the Granite State. Image credit: Department of Veterans Affairs.
February 5, 2015

CONCORD, N.H. - The unanimous vote by the U.S. Senate to approve the Clay Hunt suicide prevention bill should mean improved access to mental health treatment for veterans in the Granite State, according to local advocates.

Kenneth Norton, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) New Hampshire, has been involved in local suicide-prevention efforts with the New Hampshire National Guard, and nationally with the Pentagon and Defense Centers on Excellence. He says passage of the Clay Hunt bill will improve access, which is a critical issue for veterans in New Hampshire.

"Almost half of people who have mental health issues never seek treatment," says Norton. "It's perhaps even more so with veterans. There is a stigma associated with that, so this will help with access to treatment."

The Clay Hunt bill was named for a 26-year-old Iraq and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in 2011. The measure is now headed to President Obama for an expected signature.

Norton says with both New Hampshire senators serving on the Veterans' Affairs Committee, lawmakers in the Granite State took a significant leadership role in passing the bill.

"Senators Ayotte and Shaheen were both sponsors of this bill," he says. "They've been very interested in ensuring that our veterans receive the mental health care they have earned and that they deserve."

While most news accounts have focused on statistics, like the 8,000 veterans who die from suicide each year, Norton says the latest recommendations for reporting on suicide suggest those numbers do more harm than good. He says it's better to focus on prevention.

"Ninety percent of people who attempt suicide don't go on to die by suicide," says Norton. "And 75 percent of people who do die by suicide give some warning in advance that goes unrecognized or is not taken seriously."

According to Norton, if as many people knew the warning signs for suicide as heart attacks, New Hampshire and the nation would go a long way toward prevention. Warning signs include talking about death or dying and severe mood swings.

Help for veterans and their families is available at the National Veteran's Crisis line at 1-800-273-8255.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH