February 17, 2015

At Central New York Veteran’s Outreach Center, Senator Gillibrand Hails Passage Of The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act And Makes Push For Continued Bipartisan Action To Help Veterans

New Bipartisan Legislation Aims To Improve Mental Health Care And Enhance Suicide Prevention Resources For Veterans

Utica, NY – Standing at the Central New York Veteran’s Outreach Center, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand praised the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. Gillibrand is an original cosponsor of the bill (S. 167/H.R. 203) which the House and Senate unanimously passed and was signed into law Thursday. The bill aims to help reduce veteran suicides by improving mental health care and enhancing suicide prevention resources. Following the swift bipartisan passage of this legislation, Gillibrand is also calling for continued bipartisan action in Congress to help veterans.

“The brave men and women who served our country deserve access to quality mental health care, and I was proud to cosponsor this important legislation to prevent veteran suicides. The swift bipartisan passage of this legislation proves that we can work together to solve problems, especially when it comes to helping our veterans,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “This bill will improve critical suicide prevention services by reviewing and strengthening the VA’s current mental health programs. It provides better resources for veterans transitioning from deployment, and addresses the shortage of mental health professional by creating new incentives to attract them to the VA. We owe it to the heroes who served our country to ensure they get the help and care they need to stop this crisis of veteran suicides. We must continue to work together the way we did on the Clay Hunt SAV Act to pass further legislation that helps veterans, service members and their families throughout New York and across the country.”

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, Utica, said, “I am pleased that Senator Gillibrand visited the Veteran’s Outreach Center in Utica today to discuss this landmark legislation. The Center works closely with the Veterans Administration, the State Labor Department, and other agencies to make sure the veterans it assists receive the health care, employment training, and other services they need.   I commend her for her work improving the services veterans receive through this legislation, and other measures.”

County Executive Picente said, “I applaud the bi-partisan passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans, this bill is a testament to what can happen at the federal level if we put aside our political differences and work towards the common good. No one deserves that more than our American Veterans. The bill aims to help reduce veteran suicides by improving mental health care and enhancing suicide prevention resources. Here in Oneida County we also have begun a partnership with Syracuse University to help veterans by providing the funding necessary to run a Veterans Legal Clinic here at the CNY Outreach Center. Between what we have been able to do locally and now federally we will aim to get Veterans the help they need and deserve.”

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said, “There is never enough we can do to help our veterans.  The men and woman who serve our country give us their best and it is only appropriate we do the same and ensure quality mental health care is available to them.  I fully support this legislation and commend Senator Gillibrand for her proactive approach and advocacy on this important issue.”

Sergeant Vincent Scalise, Executive Director, Central New York Outreach Center, said, “It is hard enough to lose a friend on the battlefield, but to lose a comrade to suicide is an evil that can and should  be prevented.”

“All of us at the Syracuse VA are very pleased that Congress and the administration have come together to enact the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for America Veterans (SAV) Act. We second the Secretary’s statement that Sergeant Clay Hunt’s death was a tragedy; every suicide is one too many. We thank Senator Gillibrand for her leadership on this issue and other issues affecting our Veterans. We believe that this legislation will help us to reach more Veterans and to continue to improve mental health care for those we serve,” said Ellen E. Dougherty, Ph.D., Behavioral Health Care Line Manager, Syracuse VA Medical Center. 

According to a VA study, an estimated 22 veterans commit suicide each day in the United States. The Clay Hunt SAV Act addresses the suicide crisis by increasing access to mental health care and capacity at VA. The legislation requires the VA to create a centralized website for all information regarding mental health services. It addresses the shortage of mental health professionals by creating new incentives including authorizing the VA to conduct a student loan repayment pilot program to attract and retain mental health professionals. The legislation aims to improve the quality of care and enhance accountability by requiring evaluations of all mental health care and suicide prevention practices and programs at the VA. It also seeks to develop a community support system for veterans by establishing a peer support and community outreach pilot program to assist transitioning service members with access to VA mental health care.

The legislation is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who committed suicide in 2011. He earned a Purple Heart after getting shot by a sniper’s bullet while deployed in Anbar Province, near Fallujah in 2007. After recovering Hunt redeployed to southern Afghanistan and was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps in 2009. Before taking his own life Hunt suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and struggled to receive adequate care at his local VA hospital.