Tester’s Bipartisan Veterans Priorities Gain Momentum
Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee considers Senator’s Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, Deborah Sampson Act, and CARE for Reservists Act
(U.S. Senate) – The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee yesterday debated six bipartisan bills authored by U.S. Senator Jon Tester, the Committee’s Ranking Member. Among the bills were legislation aimed at improving mental health care and preventing veteran suicide, boosting health care resources for women veterans, and ensuring Guard and Reservists can access mental health care.
During the hearing, Tester highlighted the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act, bipartisan and comprehensive legislation that would improve VA mental health care by expanding access to care for veterans including telehealth and alternative therapies, and increase oversight over VA’s mental health programs.
“One of my main focuses this Congress is on mental health and suicide prevention,” said Tester at the hearing yesterday. “I’ve worked closely across the aisle with Senator Moran of Kansas on expanding access to mental health care for our veterans and increasing oversight over VA’s mental health programs—and the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act does just that. It also helps ease the transition for recently separated veterans, improves and expands VA’s mental health infrastructure and increases community engagement.”
Women are the fastest growing group of veterans, but many VA facilities lack the ability to provide equitable care or services to women veterans. Tester yesterday also highlighted the Deborah Sampson Act which would help ensure the VA can address the needs of women veterans who are more likely to face homelessness, unemployment, and go without essential health care.
“The Deborah Sampson Act would eliminate barriers to care and services that many women veterans face, and would expand services for women veterans most in need, such as those experiencing homelessness,” said Tester.
The Deborah Sampson Act is endorsed by veterans across the country, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), and the Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
The Committee also considered the following Tester bills:
· Care and Readiness Enhancement (CARE) for Reservists Act - The CARE for Reservists Act aims to address the high rate of suicide among members of the National Guard and the Reserve by providing readjustment counseling, related outpatient services, and mental health programs to help them return to civilian life. This bill would also require VA to submit a report comparing data regarding Guards’ and Reservists’ usage of VA mental health care services, costs, and administrative changes.
· Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act – Legislation that would establish the VA Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs to advise VA on ways to improve services for Native American veterans and to provide a forum for Native American veterans, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations to bring issues to VA’s attention. The committee would be made up of 15 voting members to be confirmed by the Secretary by nominations from geographically diverse Indian tribes or tribal organizations.
· Veterans Debt Fairness Act – This bill would limit the authority of VA to recover overpayments that are a result of errors made by the Department. Additionally, this bill would improve the due process accorded to veterans when VA attempts to recover overpayments and debts owed. The bill would also reduce the burden on veterans who incur an overpayment due to concurrent receipt of drill pay and VA benefits.
· Department of Veterans Affairs Electronic Health Record (EHR) Advisory Committee Act – Legislation that would increase oversight and accountability at VA by establishing an 11-member advisory committee that would conduct oversight of the ten year EHR rollout separately from the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense. The Committee would be made up of medical professionals, Information Technology and interoperability specialists, and veterans currently receiving care from the VA.
Earlier this week, Tester hosted a roundtable discussion with Veterans Service Organizations to review VA MISSION Act implementation, mental health resources, and other critical issues.
Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery is available to read HERE.