Ending veteran suicide is top Blumenthal priority

Sen. Richard Blumenthal alongside veterans at a press conference in January. (File/WTNH)

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH)– Barry Bernier choked up as he passionately plead on behalf of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“It’s about time we do something for these poor folks who suffer from PTSD. We need to advocate for them,” said Bernier, who is with the group “Disabled American Veterans.”

A group of veterans surrounded Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a veteran himself, as he laid out what he called his number one priority for the upcoming legislative session in Washington.

“Having fought successfully abroad, they come back and lose the war with inner demons that cause them to commit suicide,” Blumenthal said Tuesday at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.

The proposed bill is called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. It’s named after a Marine sniper who committed suicide in 2011. Blumenthal said the bill would reduce suicides by providing better access to quality mental healthcare.

“So that we can offer more psychiatric help, more commitment to outreach, more online services,” said Blumenthal.

The numbers are alarming. Blumenthal says 22 vets commit suicide everyday, and that 30-percent of combat vets come home with PTSD or traumatic brain injury.

“It’s a known unknown,” said Robert Lewis. “Everybody comes back with something.”

Blumenthal says his bill would cost around $100 million initially, but he said the cost is an obligation the country must provide. He also says the number is small compared to the overall defense spending bill. The bill passed the House last year, but failed in the Senate when Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., blocked it.

Blumenthal was due back in Washington Tuesday afternoon and hopes to bring his bill to the floor in a few weeks.

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