February 19, 2015

Manchin talks of suicide prevention push for vets at VA | Beckley Register-Herald

U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin sat down Wednesday with veterans and administrators at the Beckley VA Medical Center to celebrate the passage of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act and talk about the local hospital's achievements and needs.

The new act addresses suicide among veterans by requiring an evaluation of existing suicide prevention programs, creating a new website with mental health resources for veterans, improving resources and training for existing programs, and creating a community outreach pilot program to ease the transition from active duty to civilian life.

Moreover, combat veterans who were discharged between January 2009 and January 2001 and did not enroll in the VA health care during their five-year period of eligibility may enroll this year.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald stated: "I'm pleased both houses of Congress have come together to pass the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act. Sgt. Clay Hunt's death was a tragedy. Every suicide is one too many. I had the honor of meeting Sgt. Hunt's parents and was inspired by their strength and their commitment to further improve care for veterans like Clay."

Hunt, a 28-year-old former Marine corporal awarded a Purple Heart in Afghanistan, worked with wounded veterans and performed humanitarian work in Haiti and Chile after his return from Afghanistan.

He was chosen as the public face for public service announcements telling veterans that they are not alone. In March, he committed suicide.
Manchin said 22 veterans die from suicide a day, and many more face daily homelessness.
He asked those veterans present to continue to speak out and voice their concerns and needs because, as individuals who have put their lives on the line, their voices are readily heard in Washington.

Medical Center Director Karin McGraw said the Beckley VA ranks well with regard to scheduling during last year's review. Following news reports from Phoenix and elsewhere that VA hospitals were covering up long wait times for veterans to get treatment, the federal government investigated all VA hospitals. She said 95 to 98 percent of appointments are scheduled appropriately within the physician recommended time-frame.
The biggest challenge the Beckley VA faces is space, she said.

"We have moved administrative services to leased space and keep clinical space on campus, but space is a challenge," she said. "We have received funding for additional mental health positions, but we are having to be creative in scheduling so they have enough space to provide services," she explained.
The Beckley VA has been approved to expand mental health services' square footage, and McGraw said construction is expected to begin in the spring.
She said that, in addition to seeing Iraqi and Afghanistan vets, the hospital, with expanding mental health services, is seeing more and more Vietnam veterans seeking mental health services for the first time.

"By extending our mental health services, we have opened the door for veterans from previous wars who have identified similar problems. They have not come to us for care before, but they are coming to us for PTSD, care that we could have been providing to them for years. They have either been reluctant to seek care or are coming because it is more publicized and we are expanding our services," she said.

Center administrators were also excited to discuss the new VA clinic on Walker Street in Princeton.

Manchin was also happy to announce the Beckley center will still have control over a mobile unit that once served veterans in Princeton and Bluefield.

Manchin said there was some concern the Veterans Administration would move the mobile unit to another area after funding came through for the Princeton site. The mobile unit will still be deployed to help veterans in southern West Virginia, he said.

By:  Sarah Plummer,