WASHINGTON – An evaluation of Veterans Administration suicide prevention programs and better psychiatry services are part of a bill by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Tim Walz that passed the U.S. Senate 99-0 on Tuesday and now heads to President Obama's desk.
No member of Congress voted against the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.
Walz, a 24-year member of the Army National Guard, met Clay Hunt when he came to "storm the hill" during a lobbying effort a few years ago. Hunt earned a Purple Heart after being shot in the wrist by a sniper bullet near Fallujah, Iraq in 2007. Despite his injury, he graduated from Marine Corps Scout Sniper School in 2008 and was deployed again, this time to Afghanistan.
When Hunt returned home to Houston after his tour, he suffered post-traumatic stress disorder and was repeatedly put on wait lists by the VA for medical care. He was prescribed more medication than mental health treatment and told his family he felt like a "guinea pig for drugs."
Hunt died by suicide in March 2011 at age 28. The 2012 VA suicide data report found that 22 veterans die each day by suicide.
Obama is expected to sign the legislation.
"We may never completely end this terrible epidemic … but if we can save one parent from having to bury their child, one son from losing his mother, or one sister from losing her brother, it's worth trying with all our might," Walz said in a statement Tuesday.
Dayton calls Wisconsin tourism ads 'idiotic'
Gov. Mark Dayton, who rarely misses a chance to bash Minnesota's neighbors to the east, has branded a TV ad campaign for Wisconsin tourism as "one of the most idiotic things I've ever seen."
The ads play off the 1980 disaster movie spoof "Airplane." Actor Robert Hays and former NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who appeared in the film, are reunited in the cockpit of an jetliner that's flying low over Wisconsin.
"I know! But Wisconsin is so beautiful in the summer!" Hays says in one ad, after a control tower warns that he's flying too low. He and Abdul-Jabbar proceed to trade memorable quips from the movie.
"It's one of the most idiotic ads I've ever seen in my life," Dayton said Tuesday, speaking at the Explore Minnesota Tourism Conference at St. Paul's RiverCentre.
Dayton was speaking to the tourism industry group about the importance of TV advertising that promotes state tourism. He said he'd also seen recent tourism-based TV ads from both Dakotas and Montana, and found them all unmemorable.
Dayton proceeded to joke that Minnesota should pay Wisconsin to keep the ads on the air.
"I'll write that on a piece of infrastructure and send it to Gov. Walker," Dayton said, a reference to Walker writing "Go Packers" on a piece of Wisconsin steel bound for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.
'Blue Alert' bill would aid fugitive arrest efforts
One day after a jury convicted Brian Fitch of gunning down Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick, a Minnesota House committee signed off on a proposal to create a "Blue Alert" system to catch suspects involved in the slaying or serious injury of law enforcement officers.
The bill, authored by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, cleared the House Public Safety Committee on Monday. It would create the system already active in 20 states, which operates similarly to the Amber Alert system used to locate suspects in child abductions.
If an officer is killed or seriously hurt, alerts over television, radio, text messages, road signs and other broadcast systems would let the public know authorities are on the lookout for a suspect. Because Blue Alert would use the similar Amber Alert system, implementing it would come at no cost, said Cornish, a retired police officer.
Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, is a Cottage Grove police officer who was on duty the day Patrick was killed. He said that although interdepartmental communication has improved over time, communicating alerts to multiple agencies that day was cumbersome. Schoen said suspected cop killers are generally the type who know they've sealed their fate, he said, and present an even greater danger to the public.
"A person that takes an officer's life has really committed themselves to an act that is irreversible and there is virtually no hope left," he said. "These are not people that we want roaming our streets, going into our schools or having any opportunity to have any more freedom than they do for their last seconds of freedom."
The measure heads next to the House Transportation and Finance Policy Committee.