Senator John Walsh, the first Iraq combat veteran to serve in the United States Senate, joined with organizations such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to introduce landmark legislation to combat suicides among veterans.
Walsh, who led an infantry battalion in Iraq in 2004 and 2005, shared his personal experience when a corporal, with whom Walsh served, died by suicide after returning home from combat.
"We’re leaving our veterans to fight their toughest battles alone, and the crisis of veteran suicide now claims 22 of our finest men and women every single day,” Walsh said. “Returning home from combat does not erase what happened there, and yet red tape and government dysfunction have blocked access to the care that saves lives. It is our duty to come together for real solutions for our heroes. It's time to pass the Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act and ensure that our veterans can enjoy what they fought so hard to protect."
IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff praised Walsh’s leadership on this legislation:
"Today, Senator Walsh made history and put us on a path toward saving countless lives,” Rieckhoff said. “We thank Senator Walsh for being the first Congressional leader to step up and sponsor historic, comprehensive legislation to combat suicide in the veteran community. Senator Walsh's bill, when passed, will ensure that our servicemen and women will have ready access to top quality mental health care and will take steps to streamline the problem that plagued communication and systems between the Department of Defense and the VA. As one of our own, we are honored to have Senator Walsh leading the charge on this life-saving fight. We hope every single member of the Senate will move swiftly to co-sponsor this urgent, bi-partisan effort.”
Montana veteran Chris Ford joined Walsh and Reickhoff for today’s announcement.
“Senator Walsh really has our back,” Ford said. “Veterans nationwide have earned top quality and accessible mental health care and this bill will go a long way toward fixing what stands in the way of that. As an Air Force veteran and native Montanan, I am very happy that this fight is being led by a fellow vet and a Senator from Montana. All Montana veterans should be proud of the leadership shown by a leader from our home state. The IAVA veterans in Washington have worked hard all week to tell the individual Representatives and Senators about the struggles vets often face when they come home from war and transition out of the military.”
Montana Senator Jon Tester, a longtime champion for Montana’s veterans, is cosponsoring Walsh’s legislation.
The Suicide Prevention for America's Veterans Act (SAV Act) will:
- Extends Special Combat Eligibility from 5 to 15 Years - Improves access to care for troops and veterans by extending combat eligibility.
- Reviews Wrongful Discharges - An unknown numbers of troops who struggle with mental health issues have been discharged for behavior often caused by invisible injuries. This legislation sets up a review process for potentially wrongful discharges.?
- Increases Professionals in the VA – This legislation increases the capacity to meet demands for mental health care professionals by repaying medical school loans for psychiatrists who commit to long-term service in the VA.
- Improves Mental Health Care and Suicide Prevention Programs - This legislation requires an annual review of care programs within DOD and the VA to ensure resources are effectively combatting the problem.
- Ensures Training for Mental Health Care Providers – This legislation requires the VA and DOD to ensure mental health care providers have special training to identify veterans at-risk for suicide.
- Creates Greater Collaboration Between the VA and DOD - Provides continuous and seamless care to veterans by putting a timeline on the NDAA mandate to make all DOD and VA records electronic.
- Establishes a Common Drug Formulary Between DOD and the VA– Requires DOD and the VA to adopt the same drug formulary for prescription medication to ensure seamless care.
During his time as Adjutant General of the Montana National Guard, Walsh championed the Beyond the Yellow Ribbon Program to help guardsmen and women and families adjust to returning to civilian life. As Lieutenant Governor, Walsh also spearheaded the launch of the Network of Care in Montana- a website to provide easy access to mental health services for veterans.