Saturday, September 29, 2007

Harkin and Grassley Team Up to Push Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Bill Through Senate

After a long-fought battle, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, helped push the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act of 2007 through the Senate late Thursday night. The heavily bipartisan bill had been obstructed for two months by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Ok., who placed a hold on the bill for reasons Harkin called “bogus.” Harkin received help from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who took the leadership role on the Republican side and helped persuade Coburn to lift the hold earlier in the day. The bill now returns to the House of Representatives, where Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, the original author of the legislation, will lead the bill through the House, where it had previously passed by a vote count of 423-0.

“I am heartened to see that after many months of talking about preventing suicide among our veterans, Congress finally took action,” Harkin said. “The Omvig family’s patience and selfless determination in seeing this through so other soldiers and families are protected is truly commendable. This is a matter of honoring the memory of their son Josh. And it is a matter of honoring the service and sacrifice of all our men and women in uniform. It is shockingly evident that our veterans urgently need the screening and counseling that this bill would require.”

The Omvig Act directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to integrate mental health services into veterans’ primary care and to step up counseling and other mental health services for returning war veterans. It is named after Joshua Omvig, a soldier from Grundy Center Iowa who took his own life after returning from Iraq.

“Our veterans should not have to suffer alone. They may be reluctant to seek help, but they need to know that help is there,” Grassley said. “We also need to make sure that the support mechanisms are in place to help veterans when they do seek help.”

The VA estimates that more than 5,000 veterans take their lives each year. Suicide rates are 35 percent higher for Iraq veterans than for the general population. And the Department of Defense recently reported that the Army is now seeing the highest rate of suicide since the Vietnam War. A study in this July’s issue of “Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health” found that those who have been in combat are twice as likely to commit suicide as men who have not served in a war.

“The memories of combat haunt many of our men and women who have served. We must provide the resources and support to prevent the unnecessary deaths of the men and women who have put their lives on the line to defend our nation,” said Harkin. “I look forward to seeing the President sign this critical bill into law to ensure that programs are in place to meet the needs of veterans.”

Harkin’s efforts to get the Joshua Omvig bill passed received praise on the presidential campaign trail from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson. "Tom Harkin's leadership on this issue in the Senate was essential to its passage,” Richardson said in a press release statement. “I encourage the House of Representatives to follow the leadership of Congressman Boswell and pass this bill. Then, for our veterans' sake, hopefully President Bush will see the error of his ways and sign the bill into law."

Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"

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