Veterans Journal: Law Aims to End Vet Suicides, Funds Attempt to End Homelessness
On Feb. 14 President Obama signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans (SAV) Act. SAV is aimed at reducing military and veteran suicides and improving access to quality mental-health care for all.
The act is named after Clay Hunt, a decorated Marine veteran who struggled with posttraumatic stress disorder. He was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded in Anbar Province, Iraq, where he witnessed the combat deaths of several close friends. Two years after his discharge and after repeated setbacks in his medical care, Hunt took his own life.
"By all accounts, he was selfless and he was brave," President Obama said of Hunt. "And when he died in 2011, it was a heartbreaking loss for his family, his fellow Marines and our nation, because Clay had already done a great deal of good in the world. And the truth is, he was just getting started."
Hunt's family, friends and fellow veterans made it their mission to spare other families the pain they endured, Obama said. "So they shared Clay's story far and wide, and they reached out to members of Congress. They lobbied and they testified and made personal appeals. And thanks to their tireless efforts — and we are particularly grateful to Clay's family, being able to transform grief into action — today, I will sign the Clay Hunt SAV Act into law."
The president said the best way to honor Hunt "is to make sure that more veterans like him are here for all the years to come and able to make extraordinary contributions, building on what they've already done for our safety and our security."
The act reinforces efforts still in progress to improve Department of Veterans Affairs mental-health-care access by requiring annual third-party evaluations of the VA's mental-health care and suicide-prevention programs; creating a centralized website with resources and information about the range of mental-health services available from the VA; conducting a three-year pilot program using peer support to assist veterans transitioning from active duty, and encouraging collaborative suicide-prevention efforts between the VA and nonprofit mental-health organizations.
The president's proposed 2016 budget also includes more than $7 billion for the VA to continue its focus on expanding and transforming mental-health services for veterans, including treatment for posttraumatic stress, ensuring timely access to mental-health care and treatment for military sexual trauma.
"This law will not bring Clay back, as much as we wish it would," Mr. Obama said, "but the reforms that it puts in place would've helped, and they'll help others who are going through the same challenging process that he went through."
New help for homeless
Building on President Obama’s commitment to end veteran homelessness, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced on Feb. 13 the availability of $300 million in grants to nonprofit organizations and other groups that serve veterans through VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) program. The program assists low-income veteran families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.
Page 2 of 2 - Announcement of the grants comes on the heels of a nationwide homeless 2015 Point in Time Count, which took place last month and in which VA officials and community volunteers spread out around the country to identify and tally the number of homeless veterans. Last year’s PIT Count found that 49,993 veterans were homeless on a single night, a 33-percent decline in homelessness among veterans since 2010.
In fiscal 2014 alone, through the VA’s homeless programs, nearly 70,000 veterans and their family members were placed in permanent housing or kept from becoming homeless under the program. The VA’s goal is to end veteran homelessness by the end of this year.
The VA recently announced awards totaling $507 million using SSVF grants. Those funds included targeted support for 56 high-priority communities. The VA is preparing to award an additional $93 million in SSVF funds for high-priority communities. For more information, visit http://1.usa.gov/1zxNl6I.
Despite this aid, the VA cannot do it alone. Community organizations and individuals across the country are integral to providing services to veterans and spreading the word about the resources VA provides to prevent and, ultimately, end homelessness among veterans. Go online to va.gov/homeless to learn about VA's programs for veterans and to find out what you, your neighbors and your community can do to help homeless veterans or those at imminent risk of becoming so.
Also, if you are a veteran at risk of losing your housing or know one at risk of same, the VA has comprehensive programs to prevent homelessness. Call the VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at (877) 4AID-VET for a trained VA responder who can connect you with the resources the VA offers through these and many other programs.
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