President Barack Obama today signed into law the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, or SAV Act.
The act is aimed at reducing military and veteran suicides and improving their access to quality mental health care.
Hunt was a decorated Marine veteran who struggled with post-traumatic stress. He deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded in Anbar Province, Iraq, and witnessed the combat deaths of close friends.
Two years after his discharge and after repeated setbacks in his medical care, Hunt took his own life.
Selfless, Brave Veteran
"By all accounts, he was selfless and he was brave," 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."
Through unimaginable grief, Hunt's family, friends and fellow veterans made it their mission to spare other families the pain they endured, the president said.
"So they shared Clay's story far and wide," Obama said. "And they reached out to members of Congress. And 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.”
Improving Mental Health Care, Suicide Prevention Programs
The act builds on efforts still in progress to improve Veterans Affairs mental health care access by:
-- Requiring annual third party evaluations of 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 non-profit 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 post-traumatic 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," 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."
It's time to eliminate the stigma and barriers that face those who seek help, the president said. Asking for help is hard enough, he said, particularly when you are used to helping others.
"Today, we say again to every person in uniform, every veteran who has ever served, we thank you for your service. We honor your sacrifice. But sometimes, you know, talk is cheap. And sometimes, you know, particularly at a time when we've got an all-volunteer force and so often we can celebrate them at a ball game, but too many are insulated from the impacts," the president said.
"We've got to also act," Obama said. "We can't just talk. So we're ready to help you begin the next chapter of your lives. And if you are hurting, know this: You are not forgotten. You are not alone. You are never alone. We are here for you. America is here for you. All of us. And we will not stop doing everything in our power to get you the care and support you need to stay strong and keep serving this country we love.
"We need you. We need you. You make our country better," the president said.
(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)