(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kans.) today hosted a roundtable discussion with veterans stakeholders and advocates to discuss measures to improve the servicemember-to-veteran transition and suicide prevention efforts.
“Today, we continued the critical conversation of how to address the biggest hurdles facing servicemembers as they transition to civilian life, and how we can better support them in the long term,” said Chairman Tester. “Whether it’s navigating the job market, finding housing, or applying for VA benefits, readjusting to civilian life is challenging, and can often take a serious toll on a veterans’ mental health. I look forward to working with Ranking Member Moran on solutions to connect more veterans with the care and resources they need, and will continue seeking input from stakeholders to ensure our work here in Congress is hitting the mark.”
“Reaching veterans with mental health services during their first months after leaving the military can be a matter of life and death,” said Ranking Member Moran. “I appreciate the roundtable participants for sharing their input and the work they do to care for our veterans. The information garnered today will guide our legislative work to help veterans living with mental health conditions and hopefully reach more veterans when they leave the military.”
Veterans nationwide experience several areas of difficulty during reintegration into civilian life—including problems with productivity at work or school, taking care of health needs, and interacting with family members and friends. The most recent Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) data shows veterans are most vulnerable in the first three months following separation from military service, and suicide risk remains elevated for years after transition.
At the roundtable, the Senators engaged stakeholders in a constructive dialogue on supporting transitioning servicemembers and veterans. Topics included increasing suicide prevention efforts through better social and community connectedness, improving veterans’ employment and education opportunities, and addressing the needs of women veterans.
“Mental health and suicide prevention has long been one of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) top legislative priorities,” said Hannah Sinoway, Executive Vice President at IAVA. “IAVA is grateful to Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for holding this roundtable discussion to address specific mental health challenges for transitioning servicemembers, removing the stigma around getting help, and the importance of improving veterans’ access to life-saving care and resources—including IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force program. These are top priorities for our organization, and we look forward to continuing to work with the Committee to incorporate these solutions into future legislative efforts.”
“I thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for hosting today’s roundtable discussion, and for hearing firsthand of the challenges disabled veterans are facing in rural states like Montana,” said Dan Altmaier, a Disabled Veterans Outreach Program Specialist from the Montana Job Service in Billings. “Disabled Veterans Outreach Programs (DVOPs) are located in every major town in every state, helping veterans find meaningful employment. The DVOPs in each town are well-connected in their communities, and provide veterans with critical connections to services and supports, both through the VA as well as independent and nonprofit organizations.”
“Upon my retirement from 23-years of active duty service in war and peacetime, I have committed my life towards seeking solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our military veteran community today—especially in easing every servicemembers’ transition to civilian life,” said Dr. Arthur DeGroat, Executive Director of Military and Veteran Affairs at Kansas State University. “I thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their leadership in confronting these issues head-on, and have full confidence that we are now one step closer to fulfilling our sacred promise as citizens to better serve those who sacrifice themselves for our democracy following today’s discussion.”
Longtime advocates of strengthening the mental health resources and services available to veterans, Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran successfully championed bipartisan laws such as the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act, and Sgt. Ketchum Rural Veterans Mental Health Act. The Senators also led a Committee hearing in November aimed at increasing collaboration between VA and the Department of Defense to better support transitioning servicemembers and veterans nationwide. The Senators are continuing their push to strengthen veterans’ mental health resources in the 117th Congress—spearheading bipartisan legislation such as the Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act and Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021.