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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act Passes House and Senate, Ready for President's Signature

From the Des Moines Register:

A young Iowa reservist who killed himself after returning from Iraq, and his parents' crusade to prevent more suicides, took center stage on the floor of the U.S. House today.

Lawmakers voted 417-0 to grant final approval today to the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act. It is named in honor of an Army veteran from Grundy Center who took his own life following an 11-month deployment.

In emotional remarks, Iowans and others vowed the nation must do better when it comes to veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

In educational interest, article(s) quoted from extensively.


The bill already has been approved by the Senate, following a squabble over whether veterans should receive mental health screening, and now goes to the president for his signature.

Under the bill, the Veterans Administration is directed to develop and carry out a comprehensive program aimed at reducing suicide among veterans. Mandatory training for staff would be put in place, and veterans would be offered mental health screening and referrals, at their request, for counseling and treatment.

Mental health care would be available on a 24-hour basis, including a toll-free hotline, and additional research conducted into suicide prevention among veterans, including for those who experienced sexual trauma in the service.

Family outreach and peer counseling is encouraged under the legislation, with a special emphasis on removing the stigma associated with mental illness and promoting skills for veterans in dealing with mental illness.

More from the Associated Press:

Congress took steps Tuesday to reduce the high rate of suicides among former members of the armed forces, but only after a gun rights senator succeeded in removing a plan to track veterans treated for mental illnesses. ...

"Unfortunately, suicide prevention has become a major part of our responsibility to both active duty and to our veterans," said Bob Filner, D-Calif., chairman of the Veterans' Affairs Committee. "It's a terrible statistic," he said: "As many Vietnam veterans have now committed suicide as died in the original war. That's over 58,000."

Confirming that figure is difficult, but the VA Inspector General, in a report last May, noted that Veterans Health Administration mental health officials estimate 1,000 suicides per year among veterans receiving care within VHA and as many as 5,000 per year among all living veterans.

"These are alarming statistics," said committee member Rep. John Boozman, R-Ark.

Details on the Senate hold-up of the bill:

The House passed a similar bill last March on a unanimous vote, but it was held up in the Senate by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who succeeded in making changes to "help protect the privacy of veterans' medical records and prevent the unnecessary tracking of veterans."

Coburn was concerned that a provision requiring the VA to track the veterans it cares for could result in veterans treated for mental health issues being denied the right to purchase guns.

Coburn raised similar objections to a bill, inspired by the Virginia Tech shootings, to tighten requirements for states to share gun purchasers' mental health information with the federal government. He said the bill does not pay for appeals by veterans or other Americans who feel they have been wrongly barred from buying a gun because they have been tagged as having a mental health problem.

I know the Omvigs must be very, very relieved to see their hard work pay off. Many returning veterans will surely be helped by the provisions of this bill. We owe a great debt of gratitude.

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