One of the most under reported stories in American politics is the work of the Democratic Congress to reform treatment of veterans that became a national scandal of the Bush administration. Several bills have been passed to extend assistance to veterans in need of counseling and to protect family members who must leave their jobs to care for a wounded veteran. On Tuesday, Congress passed a suicide prevention bill to confront problems arising from ever increasing evidence that many veterans are resorting to suicide. According to Congressman Bob Filner, chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee, “as many Vietnam veterans have now committed suicide as died in the original war. That’s over 58,000.” The new bill requires mental health training for VA staff, screen suicide risk factors for veterans who receive VA care, refer at-risk veterans for counseling and treatment, and designate a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility. It also allocates funds for out-reach programs to families.
These obviously necessary steps should have been taken years ago. A bill passed in 2007 about veterans who have been dying for years is a sad commentary on how this nation assists its veterans.