In an effort to address the suicide rate amongst Veterans, the Clay Hunt Act (SAV) was signed into law last week. The main tenants of the Act involves requiring the Secretary of the VA to increase assessments and evaluations of mental health and suicide prevention programs, hire or forgive college loans for psychiatric professionals, devise a suicide prevention website and outreach program focusing on suicide prevention and resources, development of a peer support pilot program, and force VA’s VISN to partner with community mental health and nonprofits. These last two items, which appear as Section 5 and Section 6 in the law are of particular interest for Universities with Veteran Resource Centers and Student Veterans of America chapters, community mental health services, and those Veteran nonprofits that provide efficacious suicide prevention programs.
This post focuses on the theme of implementing the Clay Hunt Act within Universities with student Veterans due to personal interests and the number of my peers enrolled in higher education. We differ from the standard college student in many ways, like age, lived experiences, combat experiences, co-morbid conditions, and the fact that many of us have families. These items increases our risk factors, so that roughly one in six student Veterans contemplated suicide and/or self harm.
Related to the Clay Hunt Act, §5(c)(2)(C) requires that the peer support pilot program’s VISN outreach managers partners with community based entities, and locations where large populations of Veterans or community based services might be located. With a large number of Veterans returning to school in hopes of creating new futures, the Act specifically mentions Universities. Additionally, the paragraph mentions legal services and businesses. This will be of interest for Universities with Veteran legal services, States/counties with Veteran courts, and business programs looking to fund Veteran activities.
In Section 6, the Act only describes relationships between community mental services and VA medical centers. Reading between the lines, this once again targets Universities with Veteran Resource Centers. Most on campus counseling services possess limited resources and professionals to provide students who possess chronic mental health diagnosis (like PTSD), or exhibiting signs of a moderate to severe symptom onset (like a depressive episode). In these cases, the student is quickly ushered to a community mental health provider, Emergency Department, or VA medical center. The best method of the VA to carry out this Section is to coordinate with Veteran Resource Centers on campus to learn about how their student Veterans receive services and even potentially creating an outpatient counseling program with a VA provider.
For the precise verbiage for Sections 5 and 6, here is how they appear in the finalize Act:
SEC. 5. PILOT PROGRAM ON COMMUNITY OUTREACH.
(a) In General- The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall establish a pilot program to assist veterans transitioning from serving on active duty and to improve the access of veterans to mental health services.
(b) Locations- The Secretary shall carry out the pilot program under subsection (a) at not less than five Veterans Integrated Service Networks that have a large population of veterans who–
(1) served in the reserve components of the Armed Forces; or
(2) are transitioning into communities with an established population of veterans after having recently separated from the Armed Forces.
(c) Functions- The pilot program at each Veterans Integrated Service Network described in subsection (b) shall include the following:
(1) A community oriented veteran peer support network, carried out in partnership with an appropriate entity with experience in peer support programs, that–
(A) establishes peer support training guidelines;
(B) develops a network of veteran peer support counselors to meet the demands of the communities in the Veterans Integrated Service Network;
(C) conducts training of veteran peer support counselors;
(D) with respect to one medical center selected by the Secretary in each such Veterans Integrated Service Network, has–
(i) a designated peer support specialist who acts as a liaison to the community oriented veteran peer network; and
(ii) a certified mental health professional designated as the community oriented veteran peer network mentor; and
(E) is readily available to veterans, including pursuant to the Veterans Integrated Service Network cooperating and working with State and local governments and appropriate entities.
(2) A community outreach team for each medical center selected by the Secretary pursuant to paragraph (1)(D) that–
(A) assists veterans transitioning into communities;
(B) establishes a veteran transition advisory group to facilitate outreach activities;
(C) includes the participation of appropriate community organizations, State and local governments, colleges and universities, chambers of commerce and other local business organizations, and organizations that provide legal aid or advice; and
(D) coordinates with the Veterans Integrated Service Network regarding the Veterans Integrated Service Network carrying out an annual mental health summit to assess the status of veteran mental health care in the community and to develop new or innovative means to provide mental health services to veterans.
(1) INITIAL REPORT- Not later than 18 months after the date on which the pilot program under subsection (a) commences, the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the pilot program. With respect to each Veterans Integrated Service Network described in subsection (b), the report shall include–
(A) a full description of the peer support model implemented under the pilot program, participation data, and data pertaining to past and current mental health related hospitalizations and fatalities;
(B) recommendations on implementing peer support networks throughout the Department;
(C) whether the mental health resources made available under the pilot program for members of the reserve components of the Armed Forces is effective; and
(D) a full description of the activities and effectiveness of community outreach coordinating teams under the pilot program, including partnerships that have been established with appropriate entities.
(2) FINAL REPORT- Not later than 90 days before the date on which the pilot program terminates under subsection (e), the Secretary shall submit to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs of the House of Representatives an update to the report submitted under paragraph (1).
(e) Construction- This section may not be construed to authorize the Secretary to hire additional employees of the Department to carry out the pilot program under subsection (a).
(f) Termination- The authority of the Secretary to carry out the pilot program under subsection (a) shall terminate on the date that is 3 years after the date on which the pilot program commences.
SEC. 6. COLLABORATION ON SUICIDE PREVENTION EFFORTS BETWEEN DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS AND NON-PROFIT MENTAL HEALTH ORGANIZATIONS.
(a) Collaboration- The Secretary of Veterans Affairs may collaborate with non-profit mental health organizations to prevent suicide among veterans as follows:
(1) To improve the efficiency and effectiveness of suicide prevention efforts carried out by the Secretary and non-profit mental health organizations.
(2) To assist non-profit mental health organizations with the suicide prevention efforts of such organizations through the use of the expertise of employees of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
(3) To jointly carry out suicide prevention efforts.
(b) Exchange of Resources- In carrying out any collaboration under subsection (a), the Secretary and any non-profit mental health organization with which the Secretary is collaborating under such subsection shall exchange training sessions and best practices to help with the suicide prevention efforts of the Department and such organization.
(c) Director of Suicide Prevention Coordination- The Secretary shall select within the Department a Director of Suicide Prevention Coordination to undertake any collaboration with non-profit mental health organizations under this section or any other provision of law.