WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following Veterans Day last week, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced legislation to support the mental health needs of servicemembers and veterans as they return to their local communities. The Daniel J. Harvey Jr. and Adam Lambert Improving Servicemember Transition to Reduce Veteran Suicide Act – which was named to honor the memory of two Marines who died by suicide – would create a pilot program to add a new component to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Specifically the bill is designed to counsel servicemembers about mental health, the challenges that they might face during transition and how that might affect their mental health, and the services available to them at their local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility.
“We know the first year post-separation is a critical period for servicemembers and their families, and we must do a better job at highlighting potential mental health stressors. By providing a direct link for veterans at their local VA facilities, it helps to ensure they can connect with providers and the resources that can best address their needs,” said Brown. “Our bill gets us one step closer to meeting this gap in care by requiring VA to take proactive measures to address mental health issues faced by servicemembers, thereby helping to alleviate the pressure to seek care they may not realize that they need.”
“This bill extends a helping hand to our country’s servicemembers as they transition out of the military,” said Blumenthal. “We’ve lost far too many of our nation’s bravest to suicide, PTSD, TBI, and other conditions, because they suffered in isolation and didn’t know where to turn for help. I am fighting for this bill in memory of Connecticut’s Staff Sergeant Tyler Michael Reeb, who served as a Marine Corps sniper and tragically took his own life last year. Expanding the transition assistance program to act as a ‘reverse boot camp’ can help prevent the deaths and needless suffering of brave veterans like Staff Sergeant Reeb and their families.”
“Iowan and Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Adam Lambert was not just a hero to our nation, but he was a hero to his friends and family. Our nation has a duty to veterans across the country and to their loved ones, a duty to ensure that our heroes have the care and support they are promised. That’s why I’m proud to partner with Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown on this important measure to provide resources for our veterans who are adjusting to civilian life and may be facing serious challenges,” said Ernst.
“This piece of legislation is the first step toward properly transitioning our nation’s veterans after their service. Our current transition program does not prepare our veterans for the grief and emotional and mental stressors they will face once they leave the military. We have witnessed our failure to address the transition process in the staggering rates of veteran suicide, substance misuse, and homelessness. By providing them with this valuable knowledge and a healthy support system to navigate their transition they will be more likely to succeed in their post-military lives,” said Tom Wike, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and social work student at Ohio State University.
The pilot program would be established at ten different Transition Assistance Center locations, which serve at least 300 members annually.
TAP counseling would include discussion related to possible loss of community or identity crises while transitioning to civilian life, as well as the five stages of grief. Servicemembers would be provided with information regarding the mental health programs and benefits at their local VA facility. The bill would also require servicemembers to submit their medical record to VA regardless of whether they chose to utilize benefits.
The bill would also require a social worker or mental health professional from their local VA to call the servicemember within 90 days of transitioning to set up an appointment. After an assessment, the Secretaries of Defense and VA would assess whether to expand the pilot program after five years.
This builds on Brown’s earlier work to improve the transition process for servicemembers. In 2018, Brown introduced bipartisan legislation with U.S. Sen Mike Rounds (R-SD), the Better Access to Technical Training, Learning, and Entrepreneurship for Servicemembers Act (BATTLE) for Servicemembers Act, which will better connect servicemembers with resources to secure quality education and good-paying jobs as they transition from military service to civilian life. According to a 2017 GAO report, only 14 percent of servicemembers completed at least one additional two-day training program after completing the three day required portion of TAP. Currently, TAP training covers a curriculum that includes sessions on veterans’ benefits, financial planning, and post-service employment. The BATTLE for Servicemembers Act will now supplement the current training and better tailor the sessions to fit the needs of servicemembers.