WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) joined a bipartisan coalition of House Members to introduce legislation that would expand access to Vet Center mental health counseling across a wide breadth of American communities. Vet Centers provide a range of services to veterans and their families, including mental health counseling to combat veterans and those who suffered military sexual assault as well as bereavement services to families of servicemembers who die on duty. Vet Centers’ practice of providing services to families in addition to the affected veterans is unique in the VA veteran care space.
In the House, the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act is co-led by Rep. Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11). Rep. Anthony E. Gonzalez (OH-16), Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03), and Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands-At-Large). In the Senate, the legislation will be led by Senator Cory Booker (NJ).
“Our veterans put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms, and the very least we can do is provide them with the care they’ve earned,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “Our bipartisan legislation will achieve that by expanding VA Vet Centers in communities that need it most and ensure that our hero veterans have access to adequate and affordable health care, including critical mental health services, as they transition to civilian life."
“Since day one, I’ve been fighting for increased access to Vet Center treatment for New Jersey’s veterans. The data speaks for itself and we are clearly facing a disparity in the availability of this lifesaving care in northern New Jersey.” said Rep. Sherrill. “For that reason, I was so proud to partner with Senator Booker and this bipartisan coalition of my colleagues to expand veteran mental health services. This expansion will ensure communities currently underserved gain access to one of the most trusted and appreciated facets of VA care. I’m so thankful to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs’ Chairman Takano for putting the mental health needs of our veterans front and center.”
“Veterans in the Northern Mariana Islands would finally have their own VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic and a Vet Center with the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act,” said Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan. “This would eliminate the long wait times and costly flights to see a doctor that Marianas veterans now endure. I support this bill because it gives veterans in the Marianas and throughout America better access to the VA care they earned with their service.”
“Vet Centers play a critical role in ensuring that our veterans and their families receive access to affordable and potentially lifesaving care, including vital mental health resources and gender specific services,” said Sen. Booker. “Unfortunately, as data shows, such centers are not always available in communities with high veteran populations. This bipartisan legislation will help expand Vet Center services in several states, allowing more of our nation’s veterans to receive the VA care they have earned and deserve.”
“The transition from military to civilian life is not always a smooth one for our servicemen and women,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “Vet Centers are an important resource to help our veterans address challenges they face after leaving the military by providing services such as individual and group counseling. Currently, Ohio has nearly twice the national average of veterans per Vet Center. I am pleased to introduce this legislation with Rep. Sherrill which expands Vet Center access and resources to our veterans and their families."
“As a Gold Star Son, I will always do everything I can to support veterans, servicemembers, and their families,” said Rep. Phillips. “The tragic rate of suicide amongst our veterans is a crisis. Congress must ensure they have access to the mental health care and readjustment services they need, which is why I’m joining Rep. Mikie Sherrill in introducing the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act of 2021. I look forward to securing support from both sides of the aisle, and eventually, welcoming a sorely-needed additional Vet Center in the State of Minnesota.”
“Vet Centers play a critical role in assisting veterans as they transition into civilian life and aiding those who are experiencing readjustment issues. Unfortunately, not all veterans have access to Vet Centers because of their geographic location,” said American Legion National Commander Paul Dillard. “To address this issue, The American Legion supports efforts to establish new Vet Centers that take into account factors not measurable, but rather reflective of the unique characteristics of each state, its resources, and limitations to reach as many veterans as possible. This is why The American Legion is pleased to endorse the Vet Centers for Mental Health Act. Expanding the number of Vet Centers in certain high-population states that have high veteran to Vet Center ratios will help to reduce gaps in VA healthcare coverage and provide veterans the support they desperately need.”
The full text of the bill is available here.