Videos & Speeches

Clay Hunt SAV Act

Mr. President, Mr. Clay Hunt is a marine veteran who committed suicide in March of 2011 at the age of 28. Clay enlisted in the Marine Corps in May of 2005 and deployed to the Al Anbar Province near Fallujah in January of 2007. He was shot in the wrist by a sniper's bullet that barely missed his head, and it earned him the Purple Heart.

Clay recuperated at Twentynine Palms, CA, and then graduated from Marine Corps scout sniper school in March of 2008, and he was redeployed in southern Afghanistan a few weeks later. His unit returned to the United States in late October 2008 and he was honorably discharged from the marines in April 2009.

After he returned home, Clay suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. He struggled for many years and he struggled with inadequate care from his local VA hospital before taking his own life.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act passed the House of Representatives a little while ago this week. I believe this is an important piece of legislation. I serve on the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee and we had testimony related to suicide prevention, suicide among our veterans, a few weeks back, and it is so clear in Kansas and across the country that many veterans and their families deserve something much more than we are able to provide--than we are providing now--and this legislation which will help in that regard deserves swift passage by the U.S. Senate.

This bill, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, would be instrumental in developing a VA system capable of offering first-class, first-rate mental health care services as well as utilizing the expertise of outside organizations to provide support for those struggling with the invisible wounds of service.

The legislation would require third parties to conduct an annual evaluation of suicide prevention programs within the Department of Veterans Affairs and within the Department of Defense. It would also provide for a new website that would offer veterans information regarding available mental health care services, and it would create a joint pilot loan repayment program for VA psychiatrists. There is a tremendous shortage of VA professionals that this would help alleviate, and it will improve the exchange of training, best practices, and other resources among the VA veterans service organizations and not-for-profit mental health organizations to enhance the cooperation of their efforts in suicide prevention.

During that Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on November 19, last month, we were honored to hear Clay's story from his mom, Susan Selke. Susan shared her son's story of reliving the traumatic experiences of war and his disappointment when the VA failed to offer him the care he needed to treat his stress disorder.

In fact, it was one of the most compelling--again, I have served on the Veterans' Affairs Committee since I came to Congress, and this mother's testimony was one of the most important pieces of information I have heard from a witness during the committee hearing. What she indicated was that in her belief--and she indicated that she believed her son thought this as well--that it was the VA bureaucracy, the inability, the unwillingness, the falling through the cracks, the culture that we have heard described in the Department of Veterans Affairs that was the straw that broke the camel's back and that caused her son to commit suicide.

We have ranted, we have raved, we highlighted, we pointed out, we have discussed the VA and its problems, its bureaucracy, its culture, its failure of leadership, its service to the VA as compared to its service to veterans many times over many years. We often bemoan bureaucracy among all Federal agencies, but it is especially important at the Department of Veterans Affairs, because while it is easy to talk about the bureaucracy, the paperwork, the shuffling, the falling through the cracks, this mother's testimony about the death of her son indicated that it is not just about bureaucracy, it is not just about paperwork, it is not just about a culture. Those circumstances contributed to the death of a human being. In this case it contributed to the death of one who served our country nobly.

So we can bemoan the bureaucracy, but we need to remember that it is that circumstance that causes the loss of life. Suicide is something that needs to be addressed. We need to have a concerted effort, and legislation that is now pending before the Senate that needs to be passed before this Senate concludes is one step we can take to make certain there are less circumstances in which a soldier or a veteran commits suicide.

I cannot imagine the heartache, the difficulty, the challenge, that comes from a mom who comes to DC to testify about the suicide death of her son. I don't know how to put myself in that position, but I know it has to be a tremendously difficult, traumatic experience. The reason she must do that is because she wants to make certain that other sons of other parents of other mothers have a different experience than the one she, her family, and her son, experienced.

It is clear we have a problem. It is critical that the VA follow through on its commitment and its responsibilities to our nation's veterans. It is critical that they must follow through to those veterans who are just returning home, those who have been home a long time, and to their families who need to have the love and support and care of the VA and the American people. We have to keep working to find solutions to the issues of mental health our service men and women and veterans now face, and we must hold the VA accountable for their responsibilities when it comes to providing for the needs of those veterans. And that care and treatment must be provided in a timely, high quality, and in a specialized way that meets the needs of each individual veteran and their family.

My presence on the Senate floor this evening is to highlight the importance of the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, to pay honor and tribute to Clay Hunt and to his family, and to the hundreds of individuals and families across the country who have faced similar circumstances, and call us to the point that we recognize that steps taken today can make certain there are no more Clay Hunts, no more mothers who face the circumstance of the loss of their son, and that America lives up to its commitment to those we have called to duty.

I urge my colleagues to make certain that this legislation passes the U.S. Senate before we recess for this holiday period.