Families: VA failed veterans who committed suicide

By News4Jax.com Staff, webteam@wjxt.com
Published On: Aug 06 2014 10:21:08 AM EDT
Updated On: Jul 11 2014 12:04:53 AM EDT
WASHINGTON -

Parents testified before Congress on Thursday about how the Department of Veterans Affairs failed their children -- veterans who committed suicide.

"I think if we can just focus on the individuals, just focus on them as people in need, as patients, on their care. What is it -- what do they need today? And then build the system, modify the system, do whatever based on that. I think that'll take us a long, a long way,” said Richard Selke, whose son, Clay Hunt, committed suicide.

The most recent figures from the VA are from 2010. That year alone, 22 veterans a day took their own lives. According to statistics, that number means more troops are dying from suicide after they come home than those killed in combat.

Thursday, military parents gave heart-wrenching testimony to Congress, calling on them to do more to prevent others from dying.

They shared stories about their children and how they suffered.

Like Daniel Somers, who was 23 years old when he committed suicide last summer.

And Brian Portwine, who killed himself after his second deployment in 2011.

And Hunt, who, after fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, took his own life, also in 2011.

"These people are so strong in the first place, to raise their hands and say, 'I'll go.' And they go to war, and they have these injuries and especially with the mental injuries, it's so difficult to feel that you're a burden on other people,” said Hunt's mother, Susan Selke . β€œAnd I know Clay felt that, even though he knew how much he was loved - unconditionally, any of us would do anything to help him. But he was 28 years old. He had been a Marine scout sniper. He, you know, you just want to be able to take care of yourself and get the medical care you need."

One member of the Veterans Affairs committee said 22 vets committing suicide a day is totally unacceptable.

"When a veteran has experienced depression or other early warning signs that may indicate mental health issues or even suicide, that must be treated like an immediate medical crisis, because that is exactly what it is,” said Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine.

Susan Selke said Congress should enact legislation to help reduce red tape for veterans trying to get help with mental health problems.

The chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., introduced a bill Thursday called the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.

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