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House Adopts Kildee Amendment Seeking to Curb Veterans' Suicide Rates, Ensure Service Members Have Access to Expanded Health Care Options

Press Release

Date: May 19, 2016

Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-05) has passed an amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives seeking to curb increasing the high rate of suicide among veterans and ensure that our men and women in uniform have expanded access to mental health care services. The amendment was adopted unanimously by the House as it considered the National Defense Authorization Act. This is the second Kildee amendment adopted by the House this week; another amendment related to drinking water safety was passed yesterday.

Recent reporting on veteran suicide rates has shown alarming suicide trends among a select number of units returning from combat. Despite these disturbing reports, neither the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) nor the U.S. Department of Defense currently track veteran suicide rates by unit or any other comparable measure.

"We must do more to combat the rising suicide rates among men and women in uniform," Congressman Kildee said. "Sadly, invisible wounds of war such as post-traumatic stress disorder are taking the lives of too many veterans and service members. My amendment directs our commanders to identify which members and units are at high risk of suicide and take action to ensure those service members have expanded mental health care and treatment options."

Congressman Kildee's amendment requires the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the VA to identify units with disproportionate rates of suicide and provide additional mental health resources to personnel that were deployed in those units. Additionally, Congressman Kildee's amendment would require the military to look at the conditions of deployment for those units and provide additional mental health resources to units with similar conditions going forward.

Last fall, The New York Times reported that in one unit, "suicide is spreading like a virus," with at least 13 Marines having killed themselves. That suicide rate is nearly four times the rate of young male veterans, and 14 times more than all Americans.

"The authorities are not even aware of the spike in suicides in [particular units]; suicide experts at the Department of Veterans Affairs said they did not track suicide trends among veterans of specific military units. And the Marine Corps does not track suicides of former service members," The New York Times report says.

Congressman Kildee's legislation is his latest action in a series of efforts to curb suicide rates among veterans. He has previously introduced legislation similar to today's amendment seeking to address veterans' suicide rates. In January, Congressman Kildee also championed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. The bill was signed into law by the President on February 12, 2016. It expands access to mental health services for our nation's veterans and increases the capacity and efficiency of VA care to deal with the more than one million veterans returning from war. The law was named after Marine Corporal Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran who was awarded the Purple Heart after being shot by a sniper's bullet. In March 2011, Corporal Hunt tragically took his own life.