Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman: Murkowski Singles Out Mat-Su Veteran

As the U.S. Senate introduced legislation Sen. Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored to try and combat the problem of suicide among veterans Monday, she mentioned one Valley veteran by name.

“Today I co-sponsored bipartisan legislation with a number of my Senate colleagues to bolster America’s efforts to improve mental health care and suicide prevention resources for veterans. It’s named after Clay Hunt — a Marine who fought in Afghanistan — but it could be named after R.K. Butts or any of our Alaska-based veterans who did not receive the determined care they deserve,” Murkowski wrote.

The official title of the legislation is The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act.

Butts was a longtime Mat-Su resident and frequent contributor of letters to the editor to the Frontiersman. On Feb. 3, 2011, he took his life outside of the Veterans Administration building on Seward Meridian Parkway.

This isn’t the first time Murkowski has mentioned Butts’ story. In previous calls for an investigation into staffing problems at the Wasilla clinic she has mentioned Butts as an example of the failures of the VA to meet veterans’ needs.

In a media report last week she said she believes progress has been made in Wasilla as the VA had offered a full-time position to a doctor to work at the clinic.

She and her colleague in the U.S. Senate, Democrat Mark Begich, have worked to insure that veterans can use other options, clearing the way for referrals to Alaska Native facilities like the Benteh Nuutah clinic at the intersection of the Palmer-Wasilla Highway extension and Knik-Goose Bay Road. The group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America also has weighed in, thanking the Senate for taking on the issue.

“Combating veteran suicide has been a top priority for IAVA this year,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and CEO of IAVA. “When passed, this bill will ensure our veterans receive the top quality mental healthcare they deserve, most specifically by implementing evaluation programs to assess the success of mental health and suicide prevention programs at (the Department of Defense) and the VA.”

According to a 60 Minutes report from March of 2013, Clay Hunt was a wounded Marine Corps veteran from Houston, Texas, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan and worked on veteran’s causes and for charitable disaster relief organizations. He suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and eventually took his own life.
By:  By Andrew Wellner