Tester, Moran Take Bipartisan Action to Bolster Post-9/11 Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee leaders introduce legislation to strengthen workforce, expand care, and support mental health research at VA

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) are taking bipartisan action to improve mental health services and care for post-9/11 veterans and all generations of veterans.

The Senators recently introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 to bolster the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) mental health care workforce, provide expanded sleep disorder care and services at VA Vet Centers, and expand mental health care training opportunities across the agency. The bill also aims to support research on suicide prevention and mental health efforts, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and require VA to coordinate with the Department of Defense to examine mental health impacts and support for military families.

“Far too many servicemembers return home from war with invisible wounds of war, and it’s our duty to make sure VA has the tools it needs to connect those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan with their earned support,” said Chairman Jon Tester. “Our bipartisan bill goes the extra mile to protect more veterans from slipping through the cracks, by strengthening VA’s health workforce and expanding post-9/11 veterans’ access to life-saving mental health care and resources.”

“Improving mental health care for America’s veterans is one of my top priorities,” said Ranking Member Moran. “This legislation builds on the bipartisan work Senator Tester and I have done to make certain our veterans have access to the highest quality mental health care and suicide prevention services. Additionally, I am pleased this bill puts focus on research and resources for our post-9/11 veterans, since many who served in Operation Enduring Freedom have recently been in-crisis due to the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan.”

Numerous Veterans Service Organizations endorsed the Senators’ bipartisan effort to connect post-9/11 veterans with essential mental health care.

“Mental health and suicide prevention has long been Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s (IAVA) top legislative priority,” said IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler. “Ensuring that veterans have proper access to care, there is adequate staffing, and continued research into mental health challenges for veterans and their families are incredibly important and life-saving issues. It is for these reasons that IAVA proudly supports the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act and applauds Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for introducing this legislation. We look forward to working with them to ensure its swift passage.”

“Ensuring that our nation’s veterans have access to top quality mental health resources is one of Wounded Warrior Project’s highest priorities,” said Jose Ramos, Wounded Warrior Project Vice President of Government and Community Relations.  “Senators Tester and Moran have consistently shared our commitment to improving and expanding the services offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and we are pleased to support the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021.  This comprehensive bill is an important step towards ensuring that VA’s mental health programs evolve with the needs of those seeking care for their invisible wounds from service.”

“Veterans enrolled in VA care are less likely to die by suicide, and that’s why expanding mental health services to as many veterans as possible is key to reducing this tragedy,” said DAV National Commander Andrew Marshall. “DAV is proud to support the Post-9/11 Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021. It will allow veterans to have their mental health evaluated sooner when filing for disability compensation and expand the VA’s number of mental health providers by providing more incentives, training and additional suicide prevention research funds. The earlier veterans receive world-class mental health services, the better chance of saving lives.”

“Despite the high demand for mental health treatment, VA has struggled to provide sufficient resources to ensure that our veterans have the access to the care they need,” said the American Legion’s Executive Director Chanin Nuntavong. The Post-9/11 Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act will address this issue by bolstering VA’s mental health workforce and strengthening mental health research. We thank Chairman Tester and Ranking Member Moran for their diligent work in addressing the evolving mental health needs of the veteran community and look forward to it moving through the legislative process quickly.”

“Eliminating suicide among our nation's veterans is a top priority for the VFW,” said Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Deputy Director of National Legislative Services Tammy Barlet. “Although the data recently released from VA show a slight decline in veteran suicides from 2018, the number must be reduced to zero and remain there. There is movement in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The VFW supports S. 3293, Post 9-11 Veterans’ Mental Health Improvement Act of 2021. This bill would provide insight into access to substance use disorder treatment programs, increase Vet Center workforce, and expand suicide prevention and mental health research. We are thankful to Senators Tester and Moran for their continuing commitment to veterans and their families.”

“The need for mental health services continues to grow exponentially,” said Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) President and Chief Executive Officer Lieutenant General Dana T. Atkins. “Supporting our servicemembers and veterans, their families and caregivers by providing them resources and the health care they need to be healthy and resilient remains a top priority for MOAA. We are honored to lend our support to the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2021 championed by Senators Jon Tester and Jerry Moran. MOAA appreciates the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ leadership on this bill and many other bipartisan measures signed into law in recent months and years. The committee’s strong commitment to those who serve, by ensuring our Nation does right by them, acknowledges the value of their service and the importance of both their physical and mental well-being.”

“Our lives are shaped by our experiences and memories from military service,” said Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA) National Chair of the PTSD/Substance Abuse Committee Thomas C. Hall, PhD. “The National VVA PTSD/SA Committee has long advocated for many of the goals outlined in the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act.  We are glad to support this vital effort to provide for veterans' mental health needs, develop the VA workforce, and improve VA research included in this bill.”

“The Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs (NOVA) is happy to support the Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act, particularly Sections 202 and 203 which expands mental health training and increases scholarships and loan repayments for advanced practice nurses,” said NOVA President Kelly Skinner. “We also applaud the bill's provisions that look to strengthen VA's mental health workforce and increase research on substance use, suicide prevention and brain health. VA is the leader in mental health treatment for Veterans and this bill will help all of us to better understand and treat TBI and PTSD."

“This legislation is a critical next step in what must be a whole-of-sector approach to suicide prevention for veterans,” said The Mission Continues President Mary Beth Bruggeman. “The Mission Continues is pleased to see bipartisan action on this bill and we commit to continuing our effort to connect veterans with the VA and the quality mental health care that they deserve.”

"As twenty years of conflict has drawn to a close, it is critical that we exhaust every resource to ensure the men and women that served this country have access to the care they need and deserve,” said Team Rubicon CEO Art delaCruz. “Team Rubicon supports this bill and the goals of not only addressing the care for veteran and their families, but also expanding the supply of critical mental health providers to meet these needs."

“AFSP applauds Senators Tester and Moran for their bipartisan leadership to support the mental health needs of our youngest and most vulnerable Veterans,” said American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Senior Vice President for Public Policy Laurel Stine, J.D., M.A. “The Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Improvement Act of 2021 enhances quality of mental health care and makes crucial investments to help the youngest cohort of Veterans in our country. Veterans aged 18-34 have the highest rates of suicide and experience the most mental health injuries. Our Veterans make sacrifices for us each day, and Congress must honor those sacrifices by prioritizing suicide prevention and mental health for Veterans and their families.”

“This is a great bill to help make enterprise-wide improvements in how the VA delivers mental health care for veterans,” said NAMI Montana Executive Director Matt Kuntz. “It delivers improvements in access, clinical workforce, essential research, and care outcome analysis.”

Full text of the Senators’ Post-9/11 Veterans’ Mental Health Care Improvement Act can be found HERE.