Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bush Signs Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill into Law

With the stroke of a pen President George W. Bush signed the Joshua Omvig bill into law, ending a drawn-out political chapter that overcame a procedural hold in the Senate. The bill was introduced in the House by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who named the bill after one of his constituents, Joshua Omvig of Grundy Center. Omvig committed suicide in Dec. 2005 after returning from an 11-month deployment in Iraq.

“By directing the Veterans Administration (VA) to develop a comprehensive program to reduce the rate of suicide among veterans the law will help thousands of young men and women who bravely served our country,” Boswell said in a press release following Bush’s Monday signing. “The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act not only honors Joshua’s service to his country but ensures that all veterans receive the proper mental health care they need.”

Boswell also had words of praise of praise for Joshua’s parents, who have been relentless advocates for the bill’s passage. “I commend Joshua’s parents, Randy and Ellen Omvig,. 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,” he said.

Boswell’s efforts were picked up in the Senate by fellow veteran, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who helped push the measure through the Senate. "As a nation we cannot stand idly by when the needs of our brave soldiers are not being met," Harkin said. "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 bipartisan bill unanimously passed in the House March 21 by a vote of 427-0 before moving on to the Senate where it hit a procedural snag. Led by Harkin the bill was expected to overwhelmingly pass before going into the August recess until it hit a road bump. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. put the bill on hold, citing duplication and second amendment concerns that Harkin called (stronger verb) "bogus." Undeterred, Harkin kept fighting for the bill's passage and solicited fellow Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, to help persuade Coburn to lift the hold. The bipartisan effort paid off and the bill cleared the Senate hurdle Sept. 27.

Grassley was pleased Bush signed the bill as well. “Today’s action helps give veterans who are suffering mental anguish a place to turn when all else seems lost,” he said in a statement “These are brave men and women who need to know that there is help out there and they deserve medical treatment just like any other veteran.”

The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act (H.R. 327) is designed to help address Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among veterans by requiring 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 VA had been implementing a number of these programs, but not in a timely manner, whereas the Joshua Omvig bill mandates these programs and subsequent deadlines as a means of expediting the process for returning veterans.

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