February 23, 2015

At North Shore Lij’s Unified Behavioral Health Center, Gillibrand, King And Zeldin Hail Passage Of The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention For American Veterans Act And Make Push For Continued Bipartisan Action To Help Veterans

New Bipartisan Legislation Aims To Improve Mental Health Care and Enhance Suicide Prevention Resources for Veterans

Bay Shore, NY – Standing at the North Shore LIJ’s Unified Behavioral Health Center, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Rep. Pete King (NY-2) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (NY-1) 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 this month and was signed into law. 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 further suicides. The swift bipartisan passage of this legislation proves that we can work together 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 that 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 even more legislation that helps veterans and families throughout New York and across the country.”

Congressman Pete King said, "This legislation addressing veterans suicide is absolutely essential and long overdue. We cannot allow America's veterans who survive the horrors of war to then be driven to take their lives here at home. Congress must continue to fight for veterans in every way possible."

"It's crucial that our veterans, who have been willing to sacrifice everything to protect our constitution, liberties and freedoms are given access to the highest quality of care once they return home,” said Congressman Zeldin. “I am proud to support the Clay Hunt SAV Act, which will provide much needed mental health services for veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. As a Congressman in Suffolk County, home to the highest number of veterans in New York State, I will continue my fight to protect veterans and it will always remain one of my highest priorities."

“I’d like to thank Senator Gillibrand and my fellow veterans Congressmen King and Zeldin for their success in passing this legislation to improve mental health and suicide prevention services for veterans,” said Senator Thomas D. Croci, Chairman of the New York State Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Veterans, and Military Affairs. “This legislation will advance our efforts on the state level to remove the barriers that prevent access to services and help encourage veterans and their families to take positive action to get the help they need.  Veterans deserve our thanks for their sacrifice and our support to build a secure and comfortable life when their time in service is completed.”

“We have no greater obligation than to make sure the men and women of our armed forces have the support and services they require when they come back home,” said County Executive Steve Bellone. “Veteran suicide is an American tragedy. Senator Gillibrand's bipartisan legislation comes at an absolutely critical time as more of our American heroes return home from overseas and face the challenges of transitioning from deployment.”

“All of us at the North Shore-LIJ Health System are delighted to welcome Senator Gillibrand to our facility today.  Her commitment to the health of veterans and their families is tremendous and it is always encouraging to see both parties working together in pursuit of this shared objective.” said Andrew S. Roberts, Director, Office of Military and Veterans Liaison Services, North Shore-LIJ Health System.

"The VA's estimate of 22 veterans dying by suicide each day is a national tragedy -- but 17 out of those 22 are not enrolled in the VA system.  With the signing of the Clay Hunt SAV Act, a one-year window is now open for all post-9/11 veterans who have passed their VA eligibility period.  The VA saves lives, as it saved mine when I was in crisis, and I want to encourage everyone to seek out the care that they need. I'm excited to see that politicians from all political persuasions can find common ground on veterans issues.  The Clay Hunt SAV Act is a lifesaving measure that improves care, expands eligibility for VA access and will spread best practices -- like the ones that saved my life at the Northport VA medical center, across the entire country," said Kris Goldsmith, Columbia student and Advocate from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

“The staff at Northport VA Medical Center and I are very pleased over the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act and look forward to its full implementation and the anticipated outcomes of improved awareness and support for mental health care for our veterans” said Philip C. Moschitta, Director, Northport VA Medical Center.

According to a VA study, an estimated 22 veterans die by 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 died by 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.