Sullivan, Baldwin, Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Combat Veteran Suicide Crisis
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced bipartisan legislation today to expand community-based outreach that will help veterans access services to improve their health and wellness and prevent suicides.
The number of veteran suicides nationwide continues to rise, and approximately 14 of the 20 veterans who die by suicide each day are not receiving care from the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). Veteran Service Officers (VSOs) are often the first point of contact in the community for veterans and are on the frontlines in this battle against veteran suicides by helping enroll veterans into the VHA. TheCommitment to Veteran Support and Outreach (CVSO) Act will increase resources for VSOs that will better connect more veterans to the services they need.
The legislation also allows the Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with comparable state, local or tribal entities, including Tribal Veteran Service Officers.
“Alaska is home to more than 75,000 veterans, yet less than half of them are currently enrolled in the VA system,” said Senator Sullivan, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “That means thousands of veterans are not connected to the benefits and health care services that they have earned. Local partners and veteran service officers are crucial resources in states, like Alaska, to reaching these off-the-grid veterans. This bipartisan bill, along with the groundwork already being done at my request by the Veterans Benefits Administration in Alaska, will reinforce the VA’s mission to expand its reach and ensure veterans who live in rural, frontier states do not get left behind.”
“In 2017 alone, more than 6,100 veterans died by suicide, an amount nearly equal to the number of servicemembers killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The veteran suicide rate has stayed relatively constant for the past 10 years and we need to do something about it,” said Senator Baldwin. “County Veteran Service Officers are on the frontlines everyday working to combat this tragic crisis, and this bipartisan legislation will support their efforts to provide needed services and solutions for our veterans that will improve their health and well-being.”
Veterans are not always aware of the benefits available to them, and VSOs are often the first to inform them of their eligibility. VSOs are local employees who are nationally accredited by the VA to help veterans process their claims. These employees are responsible for successfully processing more than $22 billion in claims annually for direct compensation and pension benefits for veterans. They also provide assistance to veterans on a range of benefits and services, including compensation benefits, VA home loans, education benefits and available job placement assistance. However, there is currently no federal funding support directly available for VSOs.
The CVSO Act authorizes $50 million annually for five years to expand and support VSOs, or similar local entities, that currently assist veterans in obtaining critical benefits and services. The VA will award competitive grants to VSOs, through the states, to create, expand, or support programs that promote health and wellness, prevent suicide, and reach veterans who need help navigating the often-burdensome VA processes.By increasing the number of VSOs, states will be able to better leverage their local and federal resources to serve our veterans.
The legislation is supported by the National Association of Counties (NACo), the National Association of County Veteran Service Officers (NACVSO), and many individual VSOs, local officials and stakeholders.
“This bill reflects a wonderful partnership between the Senate, the VA, and the states working together on behalf of veterans. It will go a long way to ensure the delivery of health and wellness programs, combat suicide, and increase a state’s ability to improve outreach efforts and serve our veterans where they live – especially in frontier states, like Alaska. This is a huge step in keeping our nation’s promise to our veterans.” said Verdie Bowen, State of Alaska Director of the Office of Veterans Affairs and former President of the National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs.
“Counties provide much-needed services to millions of veterans and their families,” said Matthew Chase, National Association of Counties Executive Director. “The Commitment to Veteran Support and Outreach Act will help us better connect veterans to key health, housing and career readiness resources. We applaud Senators Baldwin and Sullivan’s bipartisan efforts to support county veterans service officers, and we look forward to working with Congress to better serve veterans in our communities.”
More information on the legislation is available here.
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