Veterans and Suicide: Taking Too Many Tennessee Lives

Veterans in Tennessee and across the country will gain access to improved mental health services, with the legislation aimed at preventing suicide among former service members. Photo credit: Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati/U.S. Army/Flickr.

Veterans in Tennessee and across the country will gain access to improved mental health services, with the legislation aimed at preventing suicide among former service members. Photo credit: Sgt. Gustavo Olgiati/U.S. Army/Flickr.

The U.S. Senate has approved legislation that seeks to prevent veteran suicide through early intervention, expanded treatment and peer support. The “Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act” has already won unanimous approval in the U.S. House, with lawmakers looking for ways to reduce the suicide rate. Nationally, some 8,000 vets take their own lives each year. In Tennessee, the figure is around 200 a year and growing, says the state’s executive director of suicide prevention Scott Ridgway. “It’s very important legislation be considered to help support efforts, not only in the nation, but also in statewide approaches and so forth,” says Ridgway. The bill’s namesake, Clay Hunt, was a Marine veteran who struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and committed suicide in 2011 at the age of 28. Sponsor of the Act in the U.S. House is Minnesota Congressman Tim Walz. He says it would require a review of all Veterans Administration programs and practices, along with the creation of a centralized source of information on all of its mental health services for veterans. The legislation also seeks to increase capacity by addressing the shortage of mental health professionals. “Doing some student loan repayments for some commitments to work at the VA for a couple of years by some of these mental health professionals and the folks who look at this think it’s going to make a difference,” Walz says. “At least it’s a start.” Walz spent 24 years in the Army National Guard and is the highest ranking enlisted soldier to ever serve in Congress.