Harkin, who served in the military during the Vietnam War, was surprised by Coburn’s hold and steadfastness and took the Senate floor to fight for his fellow veterans. “The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act has received intense scrutiny, including two hearings in the House and three in the Senate. The bill has been strongly endorsed by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, and other veterans groups,” Harkin said. “So it is a travesty to have this bill held up, now, by a single Senator for reasons that are completely bogus.”
The aim of the bill is to reduce the shocking rate of suicide among our men and women retuning from Iraq and Afghanistan. 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.
The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention bill was first introduced in the House by Iowa Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-3rd District, who named the bill after a soldier from his district in Grundy Center, Iowa, who took his own life after returning from Iraq. The bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up screening, counseling and other mental health services for returning war veterans by mandating this process. The House bill overwhelmingly passed in March by a vote of 423-0.
Harkin’s version of the bill, which is supported by fellow Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, appeared to be on the fast track before the August recess, but hit a snag over recess with Coburn’s hold. “Out of the blue, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma objected to the unanimous consent request,” Harkin said. “And his principal reason for doing so is completely baseless. He speculates that if we have mandatory screening of all veterans for suicide risk, the resulting medical data might be used to deny a veteran the right to purchase handguns.”
Harkin refuted Coburn’s claim on the Senate floor Thursday. “No medical professional can refer an individual to the background check system that would limit access to firearms. This can only be done through the judicial system,” Harkin argued. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., asked Harkin to yield the floor during his speech and proffered additional support for the bill and serve notice that bill will be moved before Congress before they adjourn. "We are not going to let one or two senators stop us from moving forward on this," said Reid, who, citing his father’s suicide years ago, made a personal plea to help prevent any more suicides.
To help build his case, Harkin shared pieces of a New York Times editorial, “Locked, Loaded, and Looney” (Aug. 30, 2007):
…Even the craven gun lobby should manage some shame over this absurd example of Second Amendment idolatry…Harkin closed his remarks on the Senate floor by making one final plea on behalf of veterans and asked Coburn to reconsider his objections to the bill. “We need to make it clear that preventing veteran suicide is a congressional and national priority,” Harkin said. “After our veterans have served and fought for our country, many times they’re being left to fight their own private mental health wars alone. Private wars they often lose.”
The senator’s office points to another bill near passage — prompted by the Virginia Tech gun massacre — that would encourage states to do a better job of listing mentally troubled individuals on the federal roll of risky gun purchasers. But tying these two measures together is itself evidence of defective reasoning, or at least scurrilous politicking. The Virginia Tech measure has nothing to do with veterans and affects only those Americans formally judged by a court to be mentally disturbed…
“I urge the objecting senator to reexamine this important bill and reconsider his objection. Lives are at stake, and we need to move forward on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention bill as quickly as possible.”
Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"