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Other Opinion: Halting the veteran suicide epidemic

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An epidemic of veteran suicide in America cuts across generations of men and women who have served their country. The death toll this year alone averages 22 veterans a day.

U.S. Senate Bill 2182, the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act, was introduced late last month by U.S. Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., the first Iraq vet to serve in the Senate. Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray is a co-sponsor.

Having a U.S. House member from Washington state introduce the legislation in that chamber would merit high praise.

Having a Republican do it, in the GOP-controlled House, would speak volumes about the measure’s legislative prospects.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and its founder Paul Rieckhoff developed and promoted the legislation.

Walsh introduced the legislation during IAVA’s National Day of Action on March 27, when 1,892 American flags were placed on the National Mall, representing the averaged cumulative suicide toll in 2014 to that day.

Key among the legislation’s efforts to improve access to mental-health care is language to extend special combat eligibility from five years to 15 years. IAVA reports, for a quarter of veterans, the mental traumas and invisible injuries of service do not appear for 10 to 12 years, long after free care for combat veterans expires. Then layers of priority rankings determine and delay access to care.

The legislation also seeks to ensure health-care providers are trained to identify veterans at risk of suicide, and that agencies provide seamless care from drug formularies to electronic records.

As a nation, we are quick to lavish praise on veterans. Gratitude and respect must be demonstrated with tangible support for their service-related physical and mental-health needs.

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