Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Walz Thursday has introduced a bill to help combat veteran suicides.
Walz, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, unveiled the legislation at a news conference with the mother of former Marine Clay Hunt, who committed suicide in 2011 after serving two combat tours, one apiece in Iraq and Afghanistan.
An estimated 22 veterans killed themselves every day in 2010, up from 18 per day in 2007, according to the latest figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One veteran lost to suicide is one too many,” Walz said in a statement. “While the wars overseas may be ending, all too often our heroes return only to face a war of their own at home.
The legislation would pave the way for more veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury to receive care from the VA. Studies found that tens of thousands of veterans were erroneously discharged and denied benefits after being misdiagnosed with other conditions.
The bill would also mandate annual independent evaluations of VA suicide and mental health programs and establish a peer support program to help service members understand what mental health care services are available to them.
Hunt enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2005 and deployed to Iraq in 2007. During the tour, a sniper shot him the wrist, and he returned to the United States for treatment. He returned to duty in 2008, serving a tour in Afghanistan.
During an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Hunt’s mother, Susan Selke, said doctors diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him to suffer from panic attacks and anxiety. But she said her son seemed to be coping relatively well before his suicide.
Walz introduced the legislation with Republican Rep. Jeff Miller of Florida, chairman of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, and Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth. Senate Democrats proposed legislation in March to address the same issue.