WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was at the White House today when President Barack Obama signed legislation to address suicides among veterans.
“This bill says loudly and clearly that we understand suicide among veterans is a national tragedy and it begins the process of addressing the problem,” said Sanders, who headed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee when the panel late last year passed the measure.
Twenty-two veterans a day, on average, take their own lives. “The suicide rate, especially among young veterans, is tragically high and we have to do everything we can get these veterans timely access to the quality of care they have earned and deserve,” Sanders said.
He pledged to continue working with others on the committee to improve mental health services for veterans. “In my view the goal is to make sure that every veteran in this country is able to get access to the medical help they need and get that mental health care immediately,” the senator said.
The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act is named for a Marine veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan who took his own life in 2011 after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder.
The legislation creates a pilot program to help veterans transition out of active duty. It calls for the Department of Veterans Affairs to create a website to provide veterans with information about available mental health services. The law also requires an annual, outside evaluation of the VA’s suicide prevention programs.
Sanders last Nov. 19 chaired a hearing on the issue of suicides among veterans. The committee heard testimony from Clay Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke. Valerie Pallotta of Colchester, Vermont, also testified at the same hearing. Her son, Pfc. Joshua R. Pallotta, took his life last Sept. 23. The 25-year-old Vermont Army National Guard member experienced post-traumatic stress after he was deployed in 2010 to Afghanistan.
To watch the mothers’ testimony, click here.