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Timothy W.
Democrat MN 1

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  • Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act

    by Representative Timothy J. Walz

    Posted on 2015-01-12

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    WALZ. Mr. Speaker, I thank the ranking member for your support of this important piece of legislation.

    As you heard, we are here once again. We had a piece of legislation that attempted to, as I think the chairman spoke about, address an issue that cuts to the heart and the soul of this Nation: When our warriors come home, how can we reintegrate them? And I think it is important, and I want to thank the chairman, one, for working so diligently on many numerous issues, but on this piece of legislation, and for bringing it back up again, but I think also for setting an example.

    The Nation expects us to do what is right by our warriors. They expect us to work together to find solutions. Something that we do in the committee is looking and seeing where we can improve and pointing out where there are faults.

    But that is not good enough. Pointing out the faults is one thing, and it is important. Finding solutions is what really matters, and this piece of legislation, I think, starts to do that.

    To my colleagues who are here, I would say this. We can certainly disagree and disagree strongly and passionately. But I think if the public knew and they could feel it and, I think, in this piece of legislation see it, there are many more things that bind us together, and our care and our commitment for our warriors is one of those.

    This is a piece of legislation that wasn't just written here in the Halls of Congress. It was written by the families, Susan and Richard Selke, Clay's parents; by the Houghtalings in Minnesota; and the Kellys in New Ulm, Minnesota; and each of these Members that you hear speak about it.

    Since we passed this legislation, and it failed in the Senate, over 750 veterans have taken their lives.

    Many times down here, we feel like everything we do is the most important thing that needs to happen now. Rarely is that true. In this case, it is.

    We can't wait another day. We can't pass this problem forward because it is not only ripping at families, it is ripping at our Nation. These are our best and brightest.

    You heard about Clay. Clay's a Marine who went to Iraq. He got shot by a sniper and, as a Marine, that irritated him. It didn't hurt him. He came back. He had his Purple Heart, and he could have come back and taken our thank yous. He didn't. He went to Afghanistan to continue on.

    He knew the extremism that was threatening Iraq and Afghanistan would some day threaten this Nation, so he was forward. He did his time.

    After he came back, that wasn't enough. He went to Haiti to help. After that, that wasn't enough. He sat in our offices on numerous occasions working on everything from access to the VA to the things you heard the gentlelady talk about in Indiana that were causing frustration amongst our veterans.

    And I think for me the thing is, like for so many of us, Clay appeared to have everything. He appeared that he knew and was competent and had it there, but we all know that they have demons, and Clay had demons.

    So what this piece of legislation does--you heard the specifics, and it does do specific things, and no one is claiming that this is going to be the fix.

    But I would make the case that what the Clay Hunt bill has done and what it has done amongst our partners in the veterans service organizations is made it absolutely clear we will not leave anyone behind. We will not turn a blind eye to this, and we will not rest until we at least make the attempt to get that number down to zero. We may never get there, but this piece of legislation starts to address it.

    So I think it is important, and I want to thank the ranking member for being on this bill and putting it forward, and the chairman, who was an original author of this and has been instrumental in making it happen.

    What we are doing here is not just passing legislation. What we are doing here is changing the attitudes, focusing the Nation's attention on this, because I don't care if it is Elkhart, Indiana, if it is Pensacola, Florida, or if it is Mankato, Minnesota.

    When we go to talk to our constituents, regardless of their political leanings, they tell us, take care of our warriors, do what is right. Fix the system.

    This piece of legislation does that. It does it in a cost-effective, smart manner, and we have got the opportunity to start moving forward.

    I would say and encourage my colleagues, let's pass this thing, but let's not see it as an end result of a process we have been working on. Let's see it as the first of many things to try and make changes to be smarter about how we use taxpayer dollars, but also to demand effectiveness, because Clay's parents deserve that. Thousands of others across this Nation deserve that.

    The more than 1 million veterans that will return over the next few years are counting on us to put everything in place to provide that help.

    So I encourage my colleagues, support this legislation. I encourage my colleagues, take this as an example.

    I want to thank Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader McCarthy for making it a priority. I think it speaks volumes. This piece of legislation is on the floor in the first week. That says something, that there is a commitment to getting it right, there is a commitment to working together, and there is a commitment to showing effectiveness for the American people.

    So, we have got that opportunity. I ask my colleagues to support this legislation, get engaged with what is happening with our veterans, and let's prove that their service was not in vain, that this democracy is strong, that our commitment to them is unwavering and that, at the end of the day, that is what really matters.

    Mr. Speaker, I am very grateful for the opportunity to again tell you about a very important piece of legislation that will help in our fight to improve mental health care for our returning warriors: H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt SAV Act. I'd like to thank the Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Mr. Miller, and Rep. Duckworth for continuing to be my partners in this effort. I'd also like to thank Speaker Boehner for bringing this to the floor swiftly. And, a big thank you to Senators McCain, Burr, Blumenthal, and Isakson for all their work on the SAV Act. Most importantly, I'd like to thank Clay's parents, Susan and Richard Selke. They are holding Congress' feet to the fire to make sure we get this done and to prevent another family from going through what they continue to go [[Page H200]] through each and every day. We cannot let them down.

    H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, is an example of how we can work together on Capitol Hill. The legislation is named in honor of Iraq and Afghanistan War Veteran and suicide prevention advocate, Clay Hunt. Clay epitomized what it meant to live a life of service, both in and out of uniform. He helped countless veterans overcome their demons but tragically took his own life in March of 2011. The legacy he left behind, however, will live on for generations to come.

    The bill you see before you was the result of strong partnerships with our veteran service organizations, strong bipartisan efforts here in Congress, and the resolve of Clay's parents pushing and pushing and pushing to get this thing done. This bill is what you get when you have folks sitting around the table, trusting one another, and working together to get it right for our nation's veterans.

    Our premise for this bill was simple: suicide occurs because many vets return to their community and then disconnect from it. So, we wanted to create a bill that would get the communities involved and coordinated. We also knew it would be important to increase both oversight of the VA and their capacity to deal with over a million veterans returning from war.

    Specifically, the bill: 1. Establishes a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning servicemembers with accessing VA mental health care services.

    2. Requires the VA to create a one-stop, interactive website to serve as a centralized source of information regarding all mental health services for veterans.

    3. Addresses the shortage of mental health care professionals by authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining psychiatrists.

    4. Requires yearly evaluations--with interim reports due in the first two years and a final report due the third year and every year after-- conducted by a third party, of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA to find out what is working and what's not working and to make recommendations to improve care. Authorizes a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on the transition of care for PTSD and TBI between the DoD and the VA.

    One veteran lost to suicide is one too many. With many of our warriors returning from war, all too often our heroes return only to face a war of their own at home. While there is no bill that will completely end veteran suicide, this bipartisan measure is a step in the right direction. In short, it's a start towards fixing a problem, but we must not lose focus on this problem after passing this bill. We must continue working to improve care for our veterans. I urge my colleagues to support this measure so that we can send it over to the Senate and onto the President swiftly.

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