Senate Veterans’ Committee Advances Five Sullivan Bills

WASHINGTON, DC – Members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee today voted unanimously to advance five pieces of legislation introduced by U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), building on the senator’s legislative efforts to support and serve America’s veterans. The set of bills includes S.2991, theVeterans Overmedication and Suicide Prevention Act, which would direct the VA to conduct an independent expert study to determine whether there’s a direct correlation between veteran suicide and a potential overprescribing of medication. The act was incorporated into a larger veteran suicide prevention package, S.785, the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Care Improvement Act of 2019, which Sullivan also cosponsored. The bills were advanced as part of a mark-up of pending legislation before the committee. 

“Many of our young men and women in uniform come home from service in dangerous corners of the world, seek treatment and, inadvertently, get addicted to prescription medications,” said Senator Sullivan. “We don’t yet know enough about the potential link between the increase in prescriptions of opioids and other dangerous painkillers and the unconscionably high levels of veteran suicide. If there is a causation, we need to get to the bottom of it and make good on our obligation to the wellness of those who’ve sacrificed for all of us. I thank members of the committee for advancing my bill directing the VA to dig into this very important issue and develop a more holistic understanding of the roots of this tragic health crisis.”

The review mandated by S.2991 would ensure that the VA has accurate information about the relationship between veteran suicides and prescription medication. Additionally, this legislation would direct the VA to perform a more comprehensive review of its behavioral health workforce with a focus on mental health counselors in an effort to address workforce shortages. The counselors are intended to increase access to services and help reduce the incidence of suicide. Sullivan introduced the bill with Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.).

The other four pieces of legislation would offer the VA and the VA secretary greater insight into the needs of Alaska Native and Native American veterans, extend the reach of the VA in rural areas, enhance the federal hiring preference for veterans, and better inform women veterans about the benefits available to them. 

S.524, the Tribal Advisory Committee Act

The bill would establish an Advisory Committee on Tribal and Indian Affairs within the VA, with one representative from each of the twelve service areas of the Indian Health Service, and half of the membership being composed of veterans. Sullivan introduced the legislation with Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.). The bill incorporates ideas generated in aroundtable discussion among veterans, Senator Sullivan, and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in Alaska in October 2018. 

S.850, the Highly Rural Veteran Transportation Program Extension Project

The bill would extend the authorization of appropriations of VA grants to veterans service organizations for the transportation of highly rural veterans. 

S.2594, the Veterans’ Preference Parity Act

The bill would enhance the federal hiring preference for veterans by changing the eligibility of 180 days of consecutive active duty service to non-consecutive service.

S.3182, the Helping Expand and Launch Transitional Health for Women (HEALTH) Act

The bill would direct the VA secretary to carry out a women’s health transition training pilot program to better connect female veterans with the health benefits and services they have earned. Sullivan introduced the legislation with Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

The pieces of legislation now advance to the Senate floor for consideration. For more information on Senator Sullivan’s legislative work on behalf of the nation’s veterans in the 116th Congress, go to: https://www.sullivan.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/senator-sullivan-recognizes-alaskas-veterans

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