(U.S. Senate) – Chairman Jon Tester yesterday led a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing aimed at increasing collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Department of Defense (DoD) to better support servicemembers and veterans nationwide.
At the hearing, Tester pressed VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy and DoD Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros—co-chairs of the Joint Executive Committee (JEC) and responsible for leading interagency cooperation between VA and DoD—on key issues such as swiftly implementing his Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act (Hannon Act), supporting victims of military sexual trauma (MST), and bridging gaps in the veteran and service member toxic exposure records.
Highlighting the critical need to quickly expand mental health care for servicemembers transitioning to civilian life, Tester said: “One of the provisions I fought to include in the Hannon Act was the joint development of a strategic plan on the expansion of health care for transitioning veterans—it was meant to be a VA product with DoD input. This report was due more than two weeks ago…can you tell us when we’re going to get this report, and speak to why there was a delay?”
“You should have it this winter—early 2022,” replied VA Deputy Secretary Remy. “…I’ve been on the job now a little over three months, and this is an issue we’re talking about and trying to make sure that we get what you expect from us in responsiveness around the Hannon Act. And we know that it’s in the process of finalization, and we’ll get it to you soon.”
Under Secretary Cisneros pledged to deliver the report to VA in two weeks.
The Committee heard from subject matter experts from organizations during the second panel, who stressed the importance of supporting those transitioning from military to civilian life.
For months, Tester has called for the continued implementation of his bipartisan Hannon Act—a monumental law named after a Montanan which aims to bolster VA’s mental health workforce, increase rural veterans' access to care, expand veterans’ access to alternative and local treatment options, improve coordination with the DoD, and conduct veteran suicide prevention research and oversight. At a Committee hearing in March, the Chairman urged Administration officials to expedite critical provisions under this law in order to aggressively combat the suicide crisis amongst the nation’s servicemembers and veterans. Tester recently applauded the Biden Administration's new veteran and military suicide prevention strategy, and reiterated his call for the immediate and steady implementation of the Hannon Act.
Tester’s Q&A is available HERE.
Tester’s closing statement can be found HERE.