Bipartisan “Vet Center Support Act” Helps Identify Veterans With Mental Health Issues, Clears Way for New Vet Centers

 WASHINGTON, D.C. [11/04/21]—Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) continued their push to ensure that veterans across the country – especially those in underserved areas - get the mental health services they need.

On Thursday, the Senators introduced their bipartisan “Vet Center Support Act,” which would provide better identification, intervention, and effective care to veterans struggling with mental health issues in underserved areas. The measure also removes barriers preventing the construction of Vet Centers.

The bipartisan legislation is also supported by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tom Cotton (R-AR), and Tim Kaine (D-VA). Representative Dean Phillips (D-MN2) introduced a House version of the bill, H.R. 3674.

We know that so many Americans, including many veterans, often struggle with mental health issues,” said Sen. Smith. “Our Vet Center Support Act will ensure veterans in Minnesota and across the country, our servicemembers, and their families can all get the vital mental healthcare and counseling services they need.”

“Vet Centers have proven to be a critical component in providing mental health services to our veterans. Arkansas veterans should have reasonable access to these services and I’m concerned the two Centers in our state lack capacity to support the number of veterans in need. The Vet Center Support Act will review and ensure Vet Centers have the resources to deliver critical care and benefits so we can continue upholding our commitment to those who serve in our nation’s uniform,” said Sen. Boozman, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.

Approximately 17 veterans take their lives every day, most of whom are not actively receiving care from the VA. Vet Centers fill an important gap between the VA and private health care by providing community based mental health, counseling, and readjustment services to veterans, active duty, National Guard members, Reservists, and their families. The services that they provide have proven successful in reducing and preventing veteran suicide through a host of mental health interventions. Despite their proven effectiveness, gaps remain in the distribution of vet centers throughout the nation.

The Vet Center Support Act directs the VA to assess its ability to furnish the full spectrum of mental health and counseling services, to identify barriers to building new Vet Centers in underserved areas, and to analyze staffing shortages. The bill does this by examining states that have a ratio of only 1 Vet Center to 100,000 veterans such as in Arkansas and Minnesota. Studying these inequities and identifying solutions will help improve the delivery of mental healthcare and counseling services to our veterans, servicemembers, and their families who are most in need.

A one-page summary of the bipartisan “Vet Center Support Act” is below.

 

VET CENTER SUPPORT ACT

Introduced by Senators boozman and smith

Death by suicide remains one of the biggest challenges facing our veterans today. Approximately 17 veterans take their lives every day, most of whom are not actively receiving care from the VA. Vet Centers fill an important gap between the VA and private health care by providing community based mental health, counseling, and readjustment services to veterans, active duty, National Guard members, Reservists, and their families. The services that they provide have proven successful in reducing and preventing veteran suicide through a host of mental health interventions. Despite their proven effectiveness, gaps remain in the distribution of vet centers throughout the nation.

Senators John Boozman of Arkansas and Tina Smith of Minnesota are introducing the bipartisan “Vet Center Support Act” to assess the ability of the VA to provide the full spectrum of mental health and counseling services, to identify barriers to building new Vet Centers in underserved areas, and to analyze staffing shortages. Additionally, this legislation assesses the effectiveness of Vet Center’s abilities to reach veterans and directs the VA to identify gaps in outreach resources. The bill does this by examining states that have a ratio of only 1 Vet Center to 100,000 veterans, such as in Arkansas and Minnesota. Studying these inequities and identifying solutions will help improve the delivery of mental healthcare and counseling services to our veterans, servicemembers, and their families who are most in need.

The Problem:

Currently only 4 states have a ratio above 1 Vet Center to 100,000 Veterans.

• Arkansas has two Vet Centers in a state with over 222,000 veterans. That is one Vet Center for over 111,000 veterans.

• Minnesota has 3 Vet Centers in a state with over 321,000 veterans. That is one Vet Center for over 107,000 veterans.

• Virginia has 5 Vet Centers for over 730,000 veterans. That is one vet center for every 146,000 veterans.

• Kentucky has 2 Vet Centers in a state with over 295,000 veterans. That is one Vet Center for over 147,000 veterans.

What is a Vet Center?

The Vet Center Program was established by Congress in 1979 to recognize that significant numbers of Vietnam veterans were experiencing readjustment problems. Vet Centers were established as community-based counseling arms of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Vet Centers fill a unique role in the veterans’ health care landscape in that there are fully HIPAA compliant, allowing Guard and Reservists to receive mental health care while keeping their privacy, which is different than other VA and DOD mental health care. These community-based Vet Centers are also crucial in providing military sexual assault counseling, marriage counseling, bereavement counseling, substance abuse referrals, screening and referrals for medical issues, and VBA benefits explanation and referral.

Issues