Veterans Groups Say Even More Suicide Prevention Tools Needed

Posted by Debi Teter

clay-hunt-428x285-ts300This week the US Senate unanimously passed veterans legislation intended to reduce the veteran suicide rate, which averages to about 22 veterans per day.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act bill now goes onto the White House for President Obama’s signature. The measure is named for a Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, who committed suicide in 2011. He was 28.

The $22 million Clay Hunt bill includes a new tool that the Veterans Affairs Department can use to recruit more mental health professionals — repayment of student loans for psychiatry students. VA officials say the pilot program will be a significant incentive for young psychiatrists to fill VA positions.

The law also mandates annual evaluations to determine the efficacy of VA suicide prevention programs, new veteran peer support programs and the creation of a new website to better explain what mental health resources are available to veterans.

Veterans’ advocacy groups said the Senate’s passage of the bill will not end their push for improving mental health services for veterans.

VFW National Commander John W. Stroud said the bill, “does strengthen and expand the mental health programs and services currently available to service members and veterans … [but what it] doesn’t do is go far enough.”

The VFW and other groups had supported dropped provisions to improve access to mental health programs for reserve and National Guard members. Other dropped provisions include a mandated review of less-than-honorable military discharges to determine if the member’s behavior was linked to post-traumatic stress disorder, and to establish a single drug formulary for the VA and the Defense Department.

Aleks Morosky, deputy director of legislative services for the VFW, said the VFW believes a single drug formulary for VA and DoD is critical for the care of troops transitioning from active-duty to veteran status. 

“Now, when you’re on active duty and get mental health care, you get a certain medication regimen” based on specific needs and met by the drugs available through the DoD’s inventory. Because getting the right medication is “trial and error,” it can be a difficult process finding the correct regimen, Morosky explained. “But since the VA does not have all the same drugs as the DoD, when you transition you have to start all over again. So we support them having a single formulary.”

A provision calling for a single VA-DoD drug formulary may have been pulled because it directly affected the Defense Department, he said. That would have meant sending the bill to the armed services committees of the House and Senate for approval, thereby adding another legislative hurdle to passage.



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