Congress is sending President Donald Trump legislation to expand veterans’ access to mental health services, which includes an initiative to create a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) grant program that supports networks to reduce and prevent veteran suicides.
The White House has expressed support for this approach and is expected to sign the bill into law, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said in a news release. The VA grant initiative is also being led by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
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 is expected to 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," Boozman said in the release. "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."
"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.
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.