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Veteran suicide prevention bill aims to serve heroes who served

According to CNN, more than 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The Department of Veteran Affairs collected comprehensive data and numbers from 21 states representing 40 percent of the U.S. population from 1999 through 2011. Sen. John Walsh of Montana introduced legislation in an effort to change that.

Walsh commanded an infantry battalion of the Montana National Guard in Iraq, but when the unit returned home, one of his soldiers committed suicide. In 2004, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America was founded as the first and largest organization for new veterans and their families. Walsh aims to get a co-sponsor for the bill and has said he has received bipartisan support.

“We’re leaving our veterans to fight their toughest battles alone,” Walsh said. “It is our duty to come together for real solutions for our heroes.”

The bill, titled the Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, begins to target specific elements of medical care that could be more efficient. One of the bill’s objectives is to allow veterans more time to receive mental health treatment.

Often, it takes longer than five years — the allotted time service members have to receive care from the Department of Veterans Affairs — for service members and veterans to realize they’re experiencing the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental injuries.

Walsh hopes to extend that time to 15 years, a generous extension that will certainly help those who find mental injuries later than typically expected.

The legislation also calls to institute a new review process that will address claims that the military improperly or unfairly kicks out any veterans whose service led to a mental health injury or illness. A corrected record would entitle veterans to VA mental health care that would otherwise not be provided due to a dishonorable discharge.

According to a press release from the VA, data on veteran suicides were only available to people who sought VA health care services. The VA hopes to better identify where veterans at risk for suicide reside and improve the department’s ability to target specific suicide interventions.

The 2012 Suicide Data Report found that even though the percentage of all suicides reported to be of veterans has decreased, the number of suicides has increased. The VA outlines four immediate actions to take in response to the released report.

Mental health seems to be often overlooked, especially that of war veterans. Stop Soldier Suicide is a nonprofit organization with the goal of curbing suicide attempts among American soldiers and veterans. Surveys distributed by IAVA show that 30 percent of service members have considered taking their own life, and 45 percent said they know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

The high numbers are not to be dismissed in comparison to the 12.4 deaths per 100,000 population, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. A problem in the report of the numbers is that many suicides are vastly underreported. Suicide rates are often difficult to interpret because of the variations in the way local officials report causes of death.

President Barack Obama said there is a need to end the epidemic of suicide among our veterans and troops. He announced $107 million in new funding for better mental health treatment for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries — the signature injuries of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

While the cost of the bill is still undetermined, with positive backing in support of the new legislation, the new legislature will bring much-needed aid to American war veterans. The importance of mental health is constantly being addressed, and it looks like America will be able to better serve the heroes who served.

Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a print journalism junior and may be reached at [email protected]

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