In her maiden speech on the Senate floor, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema invoked the courage of the late Sen. John McCain and recounted the tragic story of a veteran’s suicide that might have been prevented with better access to appropriate mental health care.
Sinema, a Democrat, said she is committed to making sure veterans don’t feel trapped, as Sgt. Daniel Somers did when he committed suicide in 2013, and shining a light on the 20 veterans who die everyday as a result of suicide.
After Somers returned home from two tours of duty in Iraq, he had post-traumatic stress disorder and was enrolled in group therapy sessions by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which he couldn’t attend because he feared disclosing classified information, Sinema said.
“Despite repeated requests for individualized counseling, or some other reasonable accommodation to allow Sgt. Somers to receive appropriate care for his PTSD, the VA delayed providing him with suitable support and care,” Sinema said.
“Like many veterans, Sgt. Somers’ isolation got worse when he transitioned to civilian life. He tried to provide for his family, but he was unable to work due to his disability. Sgt. Somers struggled with the VA bureaucracy. His disability appeal had been pending for more than two years without any resolution,” she said. “And he didn’t get the help he needed in time.”
Legislation by Sinema, the Daniel Somers Network of Support Act, requires the Department of Defense and the Red Cross to collect from new service members the names of loved ones they consider part of their support network. Those entities would then provide information about benefits and services available to military members. The measure was included in both versions of the defense authorization bill, which awaits a conference committee.
At the conclusion of her speech, Sinema invoked McCain, the long-serving Republican who died last year.
“One of Sen. McCain’s last acts in the Senate was to shepherd last year’s annual defense bill into law — the same annual bill which, this year, includes our Daniel Somers Network of Support Act,” she said. “I hope that we’re making Sen. McCain proud with such important work.”