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Local veterans react to suicide prevention act

Bob Waters |

WATERLOO (KWWL) - President Obama has signed into law a bill intended to strengthen suicide prevention efforts among the nation's veterans.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act will help the VA study new strategies for suicide prevention and help recruit more psychiatrists to work with veterans. Iowa may not have a military base but there are thousands of veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam. Area veterans say the law should be looked at as a good first step to help prevent more suicides.

Jesse McCunniff has been a soldier in the Iowa National Guard for nearly two decades. He's been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

He's seen the toll PTSD has taken on his fellow soldiers, including some of who've taken their own lives. "We've had some in our battalion and some I've served with, real tragic, have ended their own life. It's affected everyone in the unit past or present. It's really a tough time to go through and it lasts for a long time after," said McCunniff.

He says a suicide prevention act signed Thursday is a good first step. That's also how President Obama characterizes it.

"This is not just a job for government. Every community, every American can reach out and do more with and for our veterans," said Mr. Obama.

"You can see the scars of the physical ailments that people may have had coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq, but you can't readily see the mental scars," said veteran Mark Bromwich.

He hopes the law raises awareness that it's okay to talk about what's going through some soldiers minds after they come home.

"You're supposed to be rough and tough and soldiers are not supposed to have some of these mental health issues but it does happen and it happens a lot. We've got to be more cognizant of and aware of the symptoms that come with these mental health issues and when we see them, react to them," said Bromwich.

Will Overstreet is an art teacher and a veteran. He says getting more psychiatrists to meet with veterans will make a difference, as well as a peer support and outreach aspect of the law.

"Doing a website, I don't know how much a 70 year old man is going to jump on a website about his bad dreams. The peer support piece is real good. A veteran is more open to talk to another veteran about it than jumping online or calling a 1-800 number or something like that," said Overstreet.

In addition to a peer exchange program, incentives for more psychiatrists, and a website to provide information for mental health services, it also creates a pilot program to help veterans transition from active duty and requires the VA's suicide prevention programs to be evaluated every year by an independent third party.

The bill had bi-partisan approval in Congress and is named for a Texas veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan who took his own life in 2011.

Mental Health