Suicide prevention law hits home for Hoosier veterans

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — President Obama signed a veteran’s suicide prevention bill into law on Thursday that is aimed at reducing the alarming rate of military suicide in the U.S.

According to the Veterans Administration, 22 veterans commit suicide each day; that’s one veteran every 65 minutes.

The bill was named after Clay Hunt, a Marine from Texas who committed suicide in 2011 after tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunt struggled to get the Department of Veterans Affairs to upgrade his disability coverage.

Among items in the law is the recruitment of more mental health experts for veterans and expanded treatment time for post traumatic stress disorder.

It’s something Butch Miller, who works in veterans assistance with the American Legion’s Indiana branch, said was obviously needed. The Vietnam veteran likened it to his days of service, and Agent Orange.

“They recognized something was wrong but it took so long to finally do something about it. A lot of people died because of it,” he said. “But I think in this particular case the government has reacted a little bit quicker.  I think they’ve seen the problem and so now, at least legislatively, they’ve taken some action to do something about it.”

The bill is something Rep. Jackie Walorski (R-Ind.), a member of the House Veterans’ Committee, said she fought hard for.

“When we ask our finest, our brave men and women to go serve and fight for liberty and freedom – I think it’s so important that they shouldn’t have to search, they shouldn’t have to cry out,” she said. “That the best health care – and all the services they need – are right there.”

Walorski, who represents 54,000 veterans in the state’s 2nd District, called the high veteran suicide rate “unspeakable.”

“There’s nothing worse than standing at the coffin of a veteran or an enlisted – our bravest people in our country – our heroes, and knowing something happened and they were let down by this government,” Walorski said.

For his part, Miller said he is confident the bill will accomplish what it’s intended to – helping men and women who made it through military action – only to find themselves at home, battling another enemy – PTSD.

“I hope it’s not too late because there are a lot of good folks out there who are doing a lot of good things for us and I’d just as soon nothing happen to them,” Miller said.

Walorski said she believes the program will have longevity, and – as it rolls out – have the immediate statistics to prove its effectiveness.

The law went into effect immediately but, as veterans wait for its implementation, there are services currently available for them including a hotline that is staffed at all times.  Veterans or their family members can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for help.