Senate Democrats

Senator Reid Promises Vote on the Veterans Suicide Prevention Bil

Responding to a hold placed on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, Senator Harry Reid promised the bill’s author, Senator Tom Harkin, that he would bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

Senate Reid said the following during his floor statement today:

Suicide is a national problem. And with emotional and mental problems that our troops are having coming back, we have to get to the bottom of this and see what we can do to prevent future deaths.

Here are some of the highlights on the Suicide Prevention Act: 

The Suicide Prevention Bill Would Require that All VA Patients Be Screened for Suicide Risk Factors – Tracking At-Risk Veterans. “Sponsored by Iowa Democrat Leonard L. Boswell, the bill would mandate the screening of all patients at VA medical facilities for suicide risk factors and the tracking of at-risk veterans.” [CQ Today, 3/26/07]

Bill Would Require at Least One Suicide-Prevention Counselor at Every VA Medical Center. “[The bill] would also require that each VA medical center designate one suicide-prevention counselor and require the VA to conduct outreach to veterans and their families on mental health issues.’ [CQ Today, 3/26/07]

Bill Would Require 24-Hour Availability of Mental Health Care for Veterans and Create a Mental Health Hotline. “Another provision in the bill would require 24-hour availability of mental health care and a toll-free mental health hotline.” [CQ Today, 3/26/07]

Senator Coburn’s hold places needed suicide prevention services at risk:

Senator Tom Coburn Placed a ‘Hold’ on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act. The New York Times Editorial page produced a scathing editorial on Senator Coburn’s hold on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act: “As the Army’s suicide rate hits record levels in the Iraq war, there’s small wonder practically everyone in Congress wants to deal with the parallel emerging crisis of depressed veterans tempted to take their own lives. Everyone, that is, except Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma. He stands alone in blocking final passage of a suicide prevention bill in fear that the government’s record-keeping on troubled vets might somehow crimp their ability to purchase handguns. Even the craven gun lobby should manage some shame over this absurd example of Second Amendment idolatry.” [New York Times, 8/30/07]  

Senator Coburn Opposed the Bill Because He Was Concerned that Data-Gathering Would Prevent Veterans from Purchasing Guns. Coburn expressed concern that a section of the bill saying the Veterans Affairs Department ‘shall provide for appropriate tracking of veterans’ would result in data-gathering that could prevent veterans from purchasing handguns. Coburn said his concern was that if the department shared health data with other federal agencies, such as the Justice Department, then veterans with mental illness could be barred from purchasing handguns. [CQ Today, 8/23/07]

Senator Coburn Also Opposed the Bill Because it Would Require Patients to Be Screened for Suicide Risk Factors Before Receiving Medical Treatment. Coburn said he was also concerned that a provision in the bill would require patients seeking VA medical care to also be screened for suicide risk factors. [CQ Today, 8/23/07]

Senator Coburn Mistakenly Complained There Were No Hearings on the Bill. Senator Tom Harkin, who spoke with Coburn, was told by Coburn that part of his objection was because no hearings were held on the bill. Senator Harkin said, “I talked to the Senator from Oklahoma, he said, well, first of all, he was upset that there weren’t any hearings. I said, Senator, we had three here in the Senate, two in the House.”  In fact, the Senate Veterans Affairs committee held three hearings on the issue, the first on April 25th the next one on May 23rd and finally a field hearing on August 17th. [Senator Tom Harkin Remarks on the Floor, 9/5/07; Senate Veterans Affairs Committee]