- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Susan Selke, whose son committed suicide after struggling to receive care at a Department of Veterans Affairs facility, said Tuesday was “a day of mixed emotion” as lawmakers signed a bill that will improve mental health care for veterans, sending it to the president to become law this week.

“Don’t give up, don’t lose hope,” Mrs. Selke said to veterans who may be following the bill’s passage through Congress. “If you need help, ask for it. We trust now that it will be there for you.”

Leaders in the House and Senate signed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act in a rare ceremony to formally acknowledge that the bill passed both chambers. The bill now will go to the White House, where President Obama is expected to sign it Thursday afternoon.

The bill will start a loan repayment pilot program to recruit and retain mental health professionals and require annual third-party reviews to determine which VA mental health programs are working. It also will encourage more collaboration between the VA and mental health nonprofits and create a peer support network to help transitioning veterans.

The bill is named after Mrs. Selke’s son, Clay Hunt, a former Marine who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and committed suicide in 2011 after he struggled to refill prescriptions and get appointments at a VA health care facility.



Rep. Timothy J. Walz, Minnesota Democrat and sponsor of the bill, thanked Mrs. Selke for repeatedly traveling to Washington to share her story with lawmakers.

“Thank you for turning a personal tragedy into a mission to improve care for others,” Mr. Walz said. “America thanks you for that.”

The bill passed both chambers of Congress unanimously this year after stalling in the Senate in December over an objection by Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, that the $24 million bill would duplicate programs the VA already had.

 

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