New legislation aims to help prevent veteran suicides

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SAN DIEGO -- Legislation designed to help combat suicide by U.S. military veterans passed in the Senate 99-0 Tuesday, setting the stage for it to soon become federal law.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act legislation is named after a Marine Corps veteran Clay Hunt, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and took his own life in 2011. Veterans and suicide prevention groups say this law will save lives.

The critical legislation — informed and influenced directly by many veterans' personal experiences — is designed to improve the Department of Veterans Affairs mental health support services and reduce the tragic number of veteran suicides. Among many things, the Senate bill creates a one-stop website for veterans and calls for an evaluation of all VA mental health care and suicide support programs. It also establishes a peer support program to help service members.

Army reservist Rocco Santurri III is a Lieutenant and Paratrooper with the U.S. Army. In 2012 he was deployed to an extremely violent and dangerous area of Afghanistan.

Nine months later, Santurri left the combat zone for home but found himself fighting a different war – a war within.

“Depression, sort of a disconnect,” said Santurri. “Your mind is constantly processing instead of just relaxing and going about your day.”

Like many U.S. service members, he found himself dealing with feelings of isolation, depression and even paranoia.

“For me that was the biggest issue I found, to the point where you don’t want to talk to people about it,” said Santurri.

Many veterans find themselves unable to talk or deal with the emotional scars of war. As a result, close to 8,000 veterans a year commit suicide.

Santurri said it’s a breakthrough step that will help save lives.

“The numbers are what they are. We’re losing more people here, service members here than we are in a combat zone. There’s absolutely no reason why in the United States we don’t have the ability, we don’t have the money to take care of people that are coming back...That’s unacceptable.”

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