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Amy Klobuchar

12/01/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/01/2021 08:57

Klobuchar, Booker Introduce Legislation to Improve Access to Mental Health Services for Veterans

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) announced that they introduced the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act to expand access to mental health services for veterans and their families.

The bicameral bill would require 10 additional states, including Minnesota, to create at least one new Vet Center to provide mental health counseling to veterans, survivors of military sexual assault, and Gold Star families.

"Our veterans have sacrificed for our country, and we need to repay this service by providing access to care that meets their unique needs, whether that be mental health needs or readjustment counseling," said Sen. Klobuchar. "The VA estimates that 11 to 20 out of every 100 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with potential symptoms of PTSD, making it all the more crucial that we ensure every veteran has access to Vet Center services, regardless of where they live. I am proud to partner with Senator Booker on this legislation to prioritize the mental health of our veterans."

"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 bicameral 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."

"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 Paul E. Dillard, National Commander of The American Legion. "To address this issue, The American Legion supports efforts to establish new Vet Centers that consider factors not measurable, but rather reflective of the unique characteristics of each state, its resources, and limitations to reach as many veterans as possible. Therefore, 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."

"Vet Centers are vital community-based lifelines to mental health care and readjustment services for veterans, service members, and families," said Brittany Dymond, Associate Director with the VFW's National Legislative Service. "However, some communities lack access to a Vet Center while others experience demand that exceeds their Vet Center's capacity. The VFW supports the Veterans Census-Enabled National Treatment Equitable Resource Supplement for Mental Health Act of 2021 (Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act of 2021), which would require VA to increase the number of Vet Centers. We applaud Senators Booker and Klobuchar for their attention to this issue in order to provide additional touch points to VA services."

"VET Centers are a critical lynchpin in VA's ability to support Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors and other veterans in need of services to support their mental health," said Lory Manning, Director Of Government Relations for the Service Women's Action Network. "We need more VET Centers in more locations so more veterans can be helped by the healing programs and peer support they provide."

"Catholic Charities Veteran Services is proud to support this legislative effort to establish another Vet Center in New Jersey," said David Pearson, Assistant Director of Veteran Services for Catholic Family & Community Services in the Diocese of Paterson and Co-Chair of the New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholder Group. "Access to local mental health services for our veterans is critically important, and is a benefit that they deserve. We thank Senator Booker and Senator Klobuchar for leading this initiative in the Senate to help fulfil our country's obligation to our veterans and service members."

Companion legislation was earlier introduced in the House by Representatives Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), Dean Phillips (D-MN), and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands-At-Large). This legislation has been endorsed by The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Service Women's Action Network, and New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholder Group.

Historically, different methods have been used to identify where the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) places Vet Centers, leading to unintended underinvestment in certain states and territories that have higher ratios of veterans to Vet Centers than the national average. This legislation modifies the criteria that the VA uses by leveraging results of the 2020 Census and the VA's own population data to ensure underserved areas are eligible for additional Vet Centers.

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