GOP senator blocks veteran suicide prevention bill because it “throws money away”

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In another GOP facepalm moment, U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn has blocked a bill aimed at reducing veteran suicides. Coburn, in the classyist of all classy floor speeches last night, rambled on and on about why he thinks the bill is a no-go.

He’s retiring after this Congress ends, so he probably doesn’t care that he made himself look like a total tool.

Paul Rieckhoff, CEO and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, told the Huffington Post, “this is why people hate Washington.”

The bill would require the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon to undergo independent reviews of their suicide prevention programs as well as make mental health and suicide prevention information widely available to veterans through a stand-alone website. The bill would fund additional psychiatric care for vets by incentivizing psychiatrists to work with the VA. A pilot program would provide help for active-duty military members who are transitioning into civilian lives.

But all that is apparently a waste of money, says Coburn.

“I’m going to be objecting to this bill because it actually throws money away,” Coburn said, noting that nothing the bill will do would “change what is happening.”

What is happening is this: 22 veterans commit suicide everyday. Many call it an epidemic. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the bill personal. His father committed suicide. He called the death “preventable” and said, “there is only one senator standing in the way.”

But Coburn’s throwing money away gaffe isn’t the only reason people are throwing their hands in the air over his opposition to the bipartisan bill. Listen to the rest of his floor speech and you might think you’re watching a Saturday Night Live skit mocking former President George W. Bush.

Coburn sounds like Bush and any number of quotes could be extracted and put on a list of “Bushisms” without anyone noticing the difference.

“I’ve treated patients with the demons that these young men and women have,” he said, going on to note that as a physician he’s failed lots of people and dealt with suicide.

Coburn told other senators veterans need to be greeted with a smile no matter how scraggly they look, implying that would somehow help matters, but then did an about-face by saying “there’s no answer for them.”

“Events, catastrophic events, depression and situations lead people to suicide, not any one individual,” Coburn said. “They are searching for an answer that we have failed to give them.”

In one of his only semi-coherent claims, Coburn said the suicide prevention measures that would be enacted through the suicide prevention bill are already in place within the VA and, much like the GOP argues a pathway for citizenship for undocumented immigrants, it just needs to be enforced.

Coburn’s bill-block has been decried by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Pinellas County Congressman David Jolly has made veteran’s issues one of his key areas of concern since taking office last year.

“This is a good bill that should have been enacted.  Just this weekend I spent time with two retired Marines who now work as suicide prevention counselors with the VA.  Their grateful and resounding support for this legislation speaks louder than any words or opinions of a Member of Congress,” Jolly said. “We will begin anew in January with the hopes of having this important legislation enacted, remembering each day those who have taken their own lives while waiting for mental health and suicide prevention counseling.”

If the bill doesn’t get approved during this Congress, which Coburn seems poised to continue to block, it will be introduced during the 114th Congress that Coburn won’t be around for.

Considering he’s already a meme popping up on Facebook and Instagram, supporters of veterans not killing themselves are probably ready to say good riddance.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.