Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Senator Blocks Passage of Veterans' Suicide Prevention Bill

The legislative battle went down to the wire, but a lone recalcitrant senator ultimately blocked passage of a bill to help reduce suicides among veterans by enabling the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to hire more psychiatrists. APA, veterans’ service organizations, and the Department of Veterans Affairs had strongly backed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which the House of Representatives approved unanimously last week.

The Senate vote was blocked by a “hold” placed on the bill by retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who objected to the allegedly dysfunctional management of the VHA. A hold permits a single senator to block a vote on the Senate floor.

In reply, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) noted that the act included provisions for annual evaluations of the VHA’s mental health care and suicide prevention programs, in addition to encouraging recruitment of “not less than 10” psychiatrists per year into the VHA in part through use of a medical school loan repayment program. Psychiatrists entering the program would agree to a minimum of two years of service with the VHA in return for a $30,000 per year loan repayment.

There is hope for passage early next year, however. “Veterans groups have assurances from Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Richard Burr (R-N.C.) for a quick reintroduction in January,” said Lizbet Boroughs, deputy director of APA’s Department of Government Relations. “A bipartisan group of 20 senators currently supports the bill, and Representatives Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.) will act quickly on the House side, as well.”

For more in Psychiatric News about psychiatrists and mental health care in the VHA, see the article “Psychiatrists’ Pay to Rise at Veterans Health Administration.”

(Image: Susan Montgomery/Shutterstock.com)


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