APA Urges Senate Action After House Passes Clay Hunt SAV Act Legislation Would Improve Access to Care for Veterans

ARLINGTON, Va. – The House today passed the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, “SAV Act,” and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) strongly urges the Senate to pass its version before Congress recesses for the year. The House legislation would increase access to needed mental health care for America’s veterans by improving the ability of the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) to attract and retain psychiatrists.

The legislation is named in honor of Clay Hunt, an Iraq and Afghanistan War veteran and suicide prevention advocate who tragically took his own life in 2011. More than 35 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the VA healthcare system have a mental health diagnosis, such as PTSD or depression and each year some 8,000 veterans commit suicide.

Many of the nation’s veterans face significant mental health conditions, which are the invisible wounds of war. Far too often they are not receiving expert, timely care. This legislation is a critical step in helping veterans get the care they need and which is our sacred obligation to provide,” said APA President Paul Summergrad, M.D.

“It also builds upon legislation passed last summer, H.R. 3230, the Veterans Choice Act, strongly supported by APA, that increased the cap on VA medical school loan forgiveness funds.”

Speaker of the APA Assembly, Jenny L. Boyer M.D., Ph.D., J.D. adds: "The shortage of psychiatrists in the VA is reflective of the national shortage. It is no surprise that there are difficulties with access because we simply do not have enough psychiatrists to meet the ever increasing demand for their services.”

Testimony from the VA and a report from the VA Office of the Inspector General identified the difficulty of hiring and retaining psychiatrists as key obstacles to providing needed mental health services to veterans.

The Clay Hunt SAV Act (H.R. 5059) would establish a pilot project encouraging more psychiatrists to choose a career with the VHA by offering medical school loan repayments on par with other government agencies and private practices. Current policy makes it difficult for the VHA to compete with employers that offer employment incentives, such as medical school loan repayment.

The legislation would, among other provisions:

  • Establish a three-year demonstration program under the VA modeled on the DOD Health Professions Loan Repayment Program
  • Authorize the VA to recruit at least 10 psychiatrists into the loan repayment program each year; the VA would hire these physicians permanently to fill full-time vacant positions
  • Require program participants to demonstrate a long-term commitment to the VA
  • Require a report to Congress on the program’s impact on psychiatric vacancies and recruitment
  • Authorize a GAO study on pay disparities among psychiatric physicians at the VA

The Clay Hunt SAV Act – sponsored by Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minn., Jeff Miller, R-Fla., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., – is backed by veterans’ service organizations including Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Vietnam Veterans of America, Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.

See a summary of the Clay Hunt SAV Act bill.

The American Psychiatric Association is a national medical specialty society whose physician members specialize in the diagnosis, treatment, prevention and research of mental illnesses, including substance use disorders. Visit the APA at www.psychiatry.org.

 

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