Bush Signs Bill Boosting Suicide Screening, Treatment For Veterans

Monday, November 5th 2007, 8:30 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Bush signed the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill on Monday, providing improved screening and treatment for at-risk veterans.

The law is named after a 22-year-old soldier from Grundy Center, Iowa, who committed suicide in December 2005 after he returned from Iraq.

``As a nation, we cannot stand idly by when the needs of our brave soldiers are not being met,'' said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who helped push the measure through the Senate. ``We have a responsibility to truly support our troops by ensuring they have the services they need during their time in active service, and after they return home.''

The law requires mental health training for Veterans Affairs staff; a suicide prevention counselor at each VA medical facility; and mental-health screening and treatment for veterans who receive VA care. It also supports outreach and education for veterans and their families, peer support counseling and research into suicide prevention.

The new law comes amid growing concerns over mental health issues borne by veterans who have seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The VA Inspector General, in a report last May, said Veterans Health Administration officials estimate 1,000 suicides per year among veterans receiving care within VHA and as many as 5,000 per year among all living veterans.

Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who sponsored the bill, commended Omvig's parents for their sacrifice and support of the new law.

``While suffering this personal tragedy, they went on to help other veterans and their families and have advocated for improving all mental health services at the VA,'' Boswell said.