Press Room

Follow through on commitment to prevent Veteran Suicides

Joshua Omvig served an 11-month tour in Iraq. The 22-year-old returned home to Grundy Center, Iowa with no visible injuries, yet he died on Dec. 22, 2005, from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. His parents, Ellen and Randy Omvig, dedicated a significant part of their lives to get national action so that their experience would not happen in other American military families.
A law named after their son, The Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, became law on November 5, 2007 (Public Law 110-110). However, the bill was never fully implemented. At the time Public Law 110-110 was signed, there were 18 veteran suicides daily.

Yesterday (Feb. 12, 2015) in Washington, DC, President Obama signed into law another bill, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. An unfunded law, it intends to do what the Omvig Act had been intended to do. In the interim between the passage of the two laws, the average daily number of suicides climbed to 22 veterans plus one active-duty service member.
The new Clay Hunt law, named for a Marine combat-veteran sniper who committed suicide in 2011, directs the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to require annual mental-health evaluations and suicide prevention programs. It also requires a loan repayment program for psychiatrists who agree to serve in the Veterans Health Administration.
Hunt, a Marine from Texas who served in Anbar Province in 2007 and 2008, was treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at various Veterans Administration hospitals, but he was frustrated by delays, the lack of effective treatment, and difficulty with his disability compensation. Even so, before ending his life, he worked with other fellow veterans who were having difficulty fitting back into civilian life because of PTSD issues.
At issue now is monitoring of the Omvig-Hunt laws. Who will inform America of actual efforts to reduce or to eliminate suicide in military families? Who will report on the lack of real or effective effort to deal with suicide of those who serve in America’s military?
Veterans and Military Families for Progress, a national nonprofit group, followed the Omvig family’s lead and helped monitor the bill through Congress. Tom Howe, an Iowa VMFP member, was privileged to visit with and learn from Ellen and Randy Omvig in their living room.
Now, Howe asks, why, more than seven years after passage of the bill, is America experiencing an increased rate of suicide among its veterans? Why is Congress passing another law to deal with veteran suicides? How many Americans even know the Omvig law’s story of failure? How many know of a lack of follow-up by Congress, the Department of Defense, the Veterans Administration, and the Media? How many Americans assume appropriate care for Americas’ veterans is the existing reality?

The Joshua Omvig and Clay Hunt stories of suicide represent so many other veteran suicide stories. All of those stories deserve more respect, Howe believes.

America is in this place, Howe contends, because of the “disconnect” between the reality of the lives of average Americans and the lives of America’s military families. Who will help educate the reality of the “disconnect”? Who will help eliminate the “disconnect” and begin to educate about and advocate for the necessary, real, bottom-up solutions which military families need and have earned by their service to America?

For further information or follow up:

Tom Howe, (563.451.9919 cell)
Chair, Media/Public Relations Committee
Veterans and Military Families for Progress

Ronald Scott (414-559-8040)
President
Veterans and Military Families for Progress

Matthew Cary (202-841-1687)
Executive Director
Veterans and Military Families for Progress


 

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