WASHINGTON– Congress is sending President Donald Trump legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services, which includes an initiative led by U.S. Senators John Boozman (R-AR) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to create a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant program that leverages and supports veteran-serving non-profits and other community networks in order to reduce and prevent veteran suicides. The White House has expressed support for this approach and is expected to sign the bill into law.
House passage of the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act comes after the Senate unanimously approved the legislation in August to connect more veterans to local mental health treatment options and increase access to VA mental health care in rural areas and for hard-to-reach veterans. The Boozman-Warner provision will enhance coordination and planning of veteran mental health and suicide prevention services and better measure the effectiveness of these programs in order to reduce the alarming number of veteran suicides.
“This new approach will allow us to reach more veterans and support organizations that have a track record of success in suicide prevention. Delivering additional resources to community-based groups providing support and services to at-risk veterans will allow them to expand their outreach, identify more veterans in need and provide great access to mental health care. I’ve been proud to join Senator Warner in leading Senate efforts to devise a strategy that empowers veteran community organizations to work with the VA in the fight against veteran suicide. I’m glad this will soon become law,” Boozman said.
“Too many veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war are left struggling when their tours of duty conclude. Though we can never repay the enormous physical and mental sacrifices that our servicemembers make for our freedom and national security, we can give them the resources and tools they need to begin the lengthy process of healing,” said Warner. “That’s why I was proud to help write this legislation to tackle the alarming rate of veteran suicide, including through providing greater support to veteran-serving non-profits and community networks in order to reach more veterans. I can think of no better way to conclude National Suicide Prevention Month than by seeing this legislation head to the President’s desk. I urge President Trump to swiftly sign this important legislation into law.”
The senators’ initiative is based on the IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act, legislation they introduced in June 2019. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Jack Bergman (R-MI) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“As a veteran and Chair of the Servicewomen and Women Veterans Congressional Caucus, I am passionate about protecting those who have served our country,” said Houlahan. “There is a crisis amongst our veteran population – thousands are dying by suicide every year. Within this vulnerable population, it’s important to note that our women veterans are twice as likely to die by suicide as non-veteran women. In these partisan times, I’m grateful to work alongside fellow veteran, Representative Jack Bergman, and my colleagues in the Senate – Senators Tester and Boozman – to tackle this crisis head-on in our bipartisan Improve Well-Being for Veterans Act. I’m also grateful to Chairman Takano for his leadership on this issue and bringing this critical legislation to the House Floor. As a Congress and as a country, we have a duty to stand up for those who’ve put their lives on the line for this country. I look forward to the president signing S.785 into law, which includes our legislation, and the support it will provide our veterans.
"Even one suicide is too many. Despite billions of dollars spent within the VA, the statistics on veterans suicide haven't budged. For this reason, we need to implement new approaches that focus on individual veterans and reach even more of them than before. I'm grateful for the persistent effort of my colleagues who have helped make passing this legislation a possibility. Ranking Member Dr. Phil Roe, Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, Senators Boozman, Tester and Moran, Secretary Robert Wilkie, and so many others have worked tirelessly with me to ensure our veterans who have sacrificed so much for our country have access to the care and services they need and deserve," said Bergman.
The VA estimates that around 20 veterans commit suicide each day. That number has unfortunately remained roughly unchanged despite drastic increases in VA funding. Over the last ten years, Congress more than tripled the VA’s funding for suicide prevention efforts to $222 million.
Only six of those 20 veterans are receiving health care services at the VA. The Boozman-Warner provision empowers the VA to share information with veteran-serving non-profits and requires it to develop a tool to monitor progress so that resources can be concentrated on successful programs.
In January 2020, provisions of the IMPROVE Well-Being for Veterans Act were included in the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act. President Donald Trump included this approach to veteran suicide prevention in the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) which was rolled out in June.