As a way to reduce the number of veteran and military suicides and improve mental healthcare, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act was signed into law earlier this year.
Named after Clay Hunt, a Marine Corps veteran, who committed suicide in 2011 after struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the bill was signed by President Obama at a White House ceremony on Feb. 12. The bill also passed overwhelmingly in the House and the Senate.
“When you have 8, 000 veterans a year committing suicide—which is more veterans than have died in all of Iraq and all of Afghanistan since we’ve been fighting—then you have a serious problem and this is emergency legislation that we need to pass to help our veterans, ” said Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in a release.
The Clay Hunt SAV Act will work to increase access to mental health care by creating a peer support and community outreach program; recruit students studying psychiatry to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) by paying off their student loans; and boost the accountability of mental healthcare by requiring an annual evaluation of VA mental health and suicide-prevention programs.
The bill was initially introduced in 2014, but despite widespread support among lawmakers and the backing of Hunt’s parents, it failed at a congressional session due to budget disagreements. It was quickly revived by members of each chamber.
Hunt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005. He earned a Purple Heart for an injury sustained during a deployment in 2007, and graduated from the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in 2008. He was honorably discharged in 2009. Hunt helped others struggling with PTSD and participated in several humanitarian efforts. He relied on the VA for his mental healthcare, but had difficulty getting the right medication and disability rating.
“The best way to honor this young man who should be here is to make sure that more veterans like him are here for all the years to come and able to make extraordinary contributions, building on what they’ve already done for our safety and our security, ” said President Obama during the signing of the bill.
By Travis J. Tritten
Originally published in Stars and Stripes