Veterans suicide prevention takes critical step forward

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According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an estimated 22 veterans in the United States commit suicide every day. On March 31, 2011, Clay W. Hunt, a decorated Marine Corps veteran, was one name behind that number. The 28-year-old had been honorably discharged two years prior; he then spent the time leading up to his death battling red tape in seeking the mental health care he needed to treat his post-traumatic stress disorder through the VA.

On Feb. 12, President Barack Obama signed into law The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The legislation — designed to help the VA employ new strategies for suicide prevention and bolster recruitment efforts to attract more psychiatrists to work with veterans — is being lauded as a significant step in addressing the mental health issues of service members transitioning to civilian life.

Present at the signing was Maj. Gen. Mark Graham (retired), who, during his U.S. Army tenure, advocated for increased access to mental health services to curb the spike of suicides among active duty military personnel. Today, Graham serves as the senior director of the Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care National Call Center, which operates multiple 24/7 peer support helplines for the military, veterans and their families: NJ Vet2Vet, 866-838-7654; Vets4Warriors, 855-838-8255; and Vet2Vet Talk Line, 855-838-7481.

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