(U.S. Senate) – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed seven Senate-backed veterans’ bills as part of a comprehensive mental health package called the Support The Resilience of Our Nation’s Great (STRONG) Veterans Act—including two bills authored by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester.
“Far too many servicemembers return home suffering from the invisible wounds of war, and it’s on us to make sure the Department of Veterans Affairs has the tools it needs to connect those who served with their earned support,” said Chairman Tester. “I’m glad the House took steps to combat veteran suicide by passing these bills that’ll strengthen VA’s mental health care workforce, bolster the Veterans Crisis Line, and expand life-saving resources to those who need it.”
As part of the STRONG Veterans Act, the House passed the following Senate-led bills with backing from Chairman Tester:
Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021—Bipartisan legislation authored by Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran to strengthen VA’s mental health care workforce, expand care options, and support mental health research at the Department.
Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act—Bipartisan legislation authored by Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran to improve the Veterans Crisis Line’s (VCL) staff training, management, and response to veteran callers at risk of suicide.
Solid Start Act of 2021— Bipartisan legislation to strengthen the Solid Start program, which was created by VA in 2019 to contact every veteran three times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty service to check-in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits.
Buddy Check Week—Bipartisan legislation to direct VA to designate one week per year as “Buddy Check Week” to organize outreach events and educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks.
Veteran Peer Specialist Act—Bipartisan legislation to expand VA’s peer specialist support program, established through the VA MISSION Act, to all VA medical centers.
Expanding the Families of Veterans Access to Mental Health Services Act—Legislation to expand Vet Center eligibility for counseling and related mental health services to family members of servicemembers or veterans of the Armed Forces who died by suicide.
VITAL Assessment Act of 2021—Legislation to require VA to report to Congress on the Department’s Veterans Integration to Academic Leadership (VITAL) program and assess the number of VA medical centers, institutions of higher learning, non-college degree programs, and student veterans supported by the program.
The package also includes provisions to improve mental health outreach to Native American veterans and minority veterans, bolster VA’s outreach to justice-involved veterans, expand Vet Center eligibility to student veterans, and allow Native American tribes to participate in VA’s Governors’ Challenge veteran suicide prevention program.