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New law should address crisis of veteran suicides.

Republicans and Democrats picked the right thing to agree on Tuesday when the Senate unanimously passed a bill intended to reduce the shockingly high number of suicides among military veterans. The bill also passed the House unanimously.

We did a bit of editorial head scratching when late last year Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, in one of his last acts before entering into retirement, used a procedural maneuver to block the legislation in the last days of the lame-duck session. Sen. Coburn offered the explanation that Congress needed to assure that the Veterans Administration did its job, not create more programs.

It was a disconcerting end to the senator's career.

What all the lawmakers in the new Congress recognized is that existing VA programs are not enough.

The problem is big and needs special attention and the estimated $22 million price tag is well worth it if it means saving the lives of veterans who have given so much for their country.

According to the latest available data, on average 22 veterans take their lives daily. The Veterans Crisis Line - 1-800-273-8255 - has taken about 1.4 million calls since 2007, making more than 42,000 rescues of veterans considering suicide, reports The New York Times.

President Obama is expected to sign the bill. He certainly should.

The new law will require an independent review of how the Pentagon and Veteran Affairs Department handle suicide prevention, with the goal of identifying the most effective approaches among VA hospitals and clinics across the country.

It requires creation of peer-support programs that will match returning veterans with colleagues who can relate to the emotional and mental health issues the returnees confront.

The law also calls for development of an interactive website to help veterans and their loved ones more easily identify available mental health resources.

While such measures will not prevent every suicide, they are a good-faith and logical attempt to reduce them.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., deserves special recognition as one of the bill's primary sponsors. Sen. Blumenthal, the ranking Democrat on the Veterans Affairs Committee, has long been an outspoken advocate for the needs of veterans.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.


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