There’s a bill to bulk up VA mental health services

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The Department of Veterans Affairs would have to hire additional mental health staff, expand eligibility for specific mental health facilities and conduct research into the effectiveness of the Veterans Crisis Line if a bill recently passed by the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee becomes law.

The Supporting the Resiliency of Our Nation’s Great (STRONG) Veterans Act (H.R. 6411)  (H.R. 6411) would grow VA resources to support veterans’ mental health and require each VA medical center to hire a minority veteran outreach coordinator. The bill would also expand eligibility for veterans to use Vet Centers—community-based mental health and counseling facilities operated by the VA—to include student veterans using VA educational benefits, such as the G.I. Bill.

The bipartisan legislation, which was approved by the veterans committee in February, would also require the VA to offer screenings within 30 days to veterans who submit disability claims related to mental health conditions.

“Veteran suicide prevention has long been a top priority of mine, and while we made significant progress last Congress, our work is not finished,” said Rep. Mark Takano of California, chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This comprehensive bipartisan package will bolster VA’s efforts to support veterans’ mental health and ensure that all veterans can equitably access VA’s lifesaving resources—especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.”

“As its name suggests, this bill includes a number of bipartisan, bicameral proposals to strengthen VA’s mental health and suicide prevention programs to save lives,” added Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, the committee’s ranking member. “It will help more veterans and military families get the help they need, when and where they need it.”

In addition, the bill would increase the cultural competence of employees who provide suicide prevention and mental health services for Native American veterans, increase the staff of mental health providers, and expand incentives such as scholarships and debt reduction programs for these providers to join the VA.

“There is simply no greater or more urgent challenge within the veteran community right now than addressing mental health concerns and ensuring our nation’s heroes have access to the support they need to both prevent and mitigate crisis,” said National Commander Andy Marshall. “We thank Chairman Takano and ranking member Bost for their continued commitment and leadership on veterans’ mental health and for bringing bipartisan, bicameral support behind this critical issue. DAV is pleased to support the STRONG Veterans Act, and we urge its swift passage and signing into law.”

Track updates to this and other legislation affecting veterans and their families by joining DAV CAN (Commander’s Action Network) at davcan.org.