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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

It's Unanimous: Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill Passes House

Great, remarkable news to report:

Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed H.R. 327, the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, by a vote of 423 to 0. The bill was introduced by Congressman Leonard Boswell, and is in honor of Joshua Omvig, a young man from Grundy Center who took his own life after returning home form an 11-month tour in Iraq.

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During consideration of the bill, Boswell said, “With more and more veterans returning from tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, new issues have arisen regarding veterans mental health care that have not received attention in the past. Some estimates have found that almost one thousand veterans receiving care from the Department of Veterans Affairs commit suicide each year and one out of five suicides in the United States is a veteran. We must do better for our veterans, and I believe this legislation is a step in the right direction.”

H.R. 327 mandates the screening of all patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs medical facilities for suicide risk factors and the tracking of at-risk veterans. It requires that each VA medical center designate one suicide prevention counselor and requires the VA to conduct outreach to veterans and their families on mental health issues. The bill also requires a 24 hour availability of mental health hotline for veterans.

Iowa Senator Tom Harkin has introduced a companion bill in the Senate. “A screening and tracking process might have provided Joshua with the counseling he needed,” added Boswell. “But, the provisions in this bill will help other veterans, and that is very important.”

Many military families who've lost loved ones to suicide following a safe return home from Iraq or Afghanistan have supported this legislation. Thoughts going out to them and to the Omvigs; I know this must be a small bit of comfort, but some nonetheless.

Now, on to the Senate...

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