WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate unanimously passed bipartisan legislation introduced by U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), a combat veteran, and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, that would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to designate one week per year as “Buddy Check Week” to organize outreach events and educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks.
“Too often, the men and women who have served our country in combat face mental health challenges when returning to civilian life,” said Senator Ernst. “As a combat veteran myself, I’ve helped lead efforts to improve mental health services for our veterans and was proud to get this bipartisan bill passed out of the Senate unanimously today. I’ll keep pushing to get this important legislation signed into law to allow more veterans the opportunity to learn how to conduct peer wellness checks so they can check in with their fellow veterans and help get them the care and support they need.”
“Veterans can face immense mental health challenges when they transition to civilian life and beyond, and New Hampshire veterans have shared with me how peer support systems can save lives and provide essential support,” Senator Hassan said. “I am so glad that the Senate unanimously passed our bipartisan bill to implement one week per year as Buddy Check Week - which is a program first started by the American Legion to help connect veterans with peer-to-peer support. I am eager for the House to join us in passing this important bill so that it can be signed into law.”
“The American Legion’s ‘Buddy Check’ program has been an invaluable way for our members to reconnect with veterans who may need assistance, and we strongly support legislation that expands this peer veteran engagement initiative,” said Lawrence Montreuil of the American Legion. “We are thrilled to see that the Senate has unanimously passed S.544 and we are immensely grateful to Senators Joni Ernst and Maggie Hassan for championing this bill and for being vocal advocates on behalf of all who serve or have served in our nation’s armed forces.”
The bill is modeled after the American Legion’s “Buddy Check National Week of Calling” to connect veterans to other veterans in order to better ensure that they receive the support they need. Under the bill, the VA would work directly with nonprofits that serve veterans, mental health experts, and members of the Armed Forces, to provide educational opportunities for veterans to learn how to conduct wellness checks. Additionally, the bill would ensure that the Veterans Crisis Line has a plan in place for the potential increase in calls that may occur during a “Buddy Check Week.”
Senators Ernst and Hassan are working together to address veterans’ mental health challenges. They previously introduced bipartisan legislation that would help states implement “Green Alert” systems to locate at-risk veterans when they go missing so that they can receive appropriate care, similar to the AMBER Alert system for children or Silver Alert system for older Americans. Ernst is also working across the aisle on a bipartisan effort to support the mental health needs of servicemembers and veterans as they return to civilian life in their local communities.