(March 28)Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., the former adjutant general of Montana, has introduced a comprehensive bill designed to reduce suicides among veterans and military members. The Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act was introduced Thursday at a ceremony on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where 1,892 flags were placed by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to represent veterans who have committed suicide in 2014.
“That’s an epidemic we cannot allow to continue,” said Walsh. “I think we all know a friend, a family member, a neighbor, a colleague that has been affected by this terrible tragedy.”
Walsh, who served on the NGAUS board for several years, commanded more than 700 soldiers in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. One of them committed suicide soon after returning home.
“This is a personal issue for me,” he said.
The bill does several things designed to prevent veterans from killing themselves. For one, it extends from five to 15 years the time a combat veteran has access to the services of the Department of Veterans Affairs. It also creates a review process for service members who have been discharged for behavior that might be a result of mental health issues.
The bill would increase the number of mental health professionals at the VA by repaying medical school loans for psychiatrists who commit to work for the agency and require the VA and the Defense Department to ensure mental health care providers have training to identify at-risk veterans.
The legislation also would push for greater collaboration between the VA and DoD.