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President Set to Sign Suicide Prevention Act To Help Veterans

President Obama is set to sign into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act that is intended to broaden mental health and suicide prevention services for veterans.

The Act, also known as the Clay Hunt SAV Act, is named for Clay Hunt, a Marine veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq and later committed suicide.

What Does the Clay Hunt Act Do for Veterans?

The act is intended to address the growing trend of veteran suicides by:

1. Establishing an independent third-party evaluation of VA mental health services and suicide prevention;
2. Establishing a single centralized website providing veterans information regarding all of the VA’s mental health services;
3. Repaying education loans for individuals promising to serve the VA in the field of psychiatric medicine;
4. Establishing Veterans Integrated Service Networks (“VISN”);
5. Authorizing collaboration with nonprofit mental health organizations; and
6. Extending certain combat veterans’ eligibility for VA hospital care.

The Act requires the VA to establish an annual independent third-party evaluation of its mental health care and suicide prevention programs and to submit a report to Congress annually. In addition to establishing the centralized website, which must be updated every ninety days, the Hunt Act also requires the VA to establish a three-year pilot program to repay the education loans for individuals who:

are eligible to practice psychiatric medicine in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) or are enrolled in the final year of a residency program leading to a specialty qualification in psychiatric medicine; demonstrate a commitment to a long-term career as a psychiatrist in the VHA; and agree to a period of two or more years of obligated service with the VHA in the field of psychiatric medicine, as determined by the Secretary.

These loan repayments are limited to “$30,000 for each year an individual performs such obligated service.” As with the above-discussed third-party evaluation, the VA must submit reports to Congress on this loan repayment program.

Under the SAV Act, the VA must also establish a three-year pilot program to establish VISNs to assist veterans who are transitioning from active duty and to improve veterans’ access to mental health services. A minimum of five VISNs are required and each VISN established must include “(1) a community oriented veteran peer support network, carried out in partnership with an entity that has experience in peer support programs; and (2) a community outreach team for each medical center in such VISN.” As with the third-party evaluation and the loan repayment programs, the VA must submit reports to Congress on this VISN program.

The VA is to select a VA Director of Suicide Prevention Coordination to oversee the collaboration with nonprofit mental health organizations. This collaboration is to exchange best practices and training to prevent veteran suicide.

The VA will also be extending certain combat veteran’s eligibility for VA hospital care. This extension will be for the one-year period beginning on January 1, 2015. Eligible veterans would have been discharged or released from active duty between January 1, 2009, and January 1, 2011, and did not enroll to receive such care during the five-year period of eligibility following their discharge.

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