Ernst Pushes Two Bipartisan Bills to Help Veterans in Crisis

The Senator, a combat veteran herself, introduced legislation to help locate veterans who go missing and to reform a disparity in bankruptcy laws that puts veterans’ well-being at risk

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), a combat veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, has introduced two bipartisan bills to help Iowa veterans, and those across the country, who are in crisis.

The first bill would assist states in implementing a “Green Alert” system to locate veterans who are missing—similar to the AMBER Alert system for missing children and the Silver Alert system for missing elderly.

The second bill would remove a disparity in bankruptcy law that puts the well-being of veterans and their families who rely on disability benefits at risk.

“Unfortunately, due to the stress and trauma associated with their time in uniform, many veterans experience hardships when they return home,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “As a combat veteran myself, I know the challenges our servicemembers can face and understand the incredible responsibility we, as lawmakers, have to ensure they get the support they are promised. Teaming-up with Democrats and Republicans, I’ve introduced bipartisan legislation to help our veterans in crisis.”

Senator Ernst, an outspoken leader in pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to fix problems in its suicide prevention outreach program, sent a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in December 2018 calling for answers to the department’s failures in addressing veteran suicide.

This week, the Senator applauded the Trump Administration for addressing this urgent crisis by creating a new task force for preventing veteran suicide.

Background:

1. The Green Alert Act of 2019, introduced with Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), would establish a federal commission to develop best practices and provide technical assistance to states to implement Green Alert systems that would be used to alert law enforcement and the public in the event of a veteran’s disappearance.

The bill would establish a commission comprised of members from the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Veterans Affairs, and Health and Human Services, as well as state and local officials and veterans. The Commission would work to develop best practices and provide technical assistance to states to establish a Green Alert system. Additionally, after two years of enactment, the Commission would provide a report to Congress on recommendations for any appropriate additional actions to support states as they develop Green Alert systems.

2. The Honoring American Veterans in Extreme Need (HAVEN) Act, introduced with Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would protect the economic security and well-being of veterans and their families who rely on disability benefits and may be experiencing financial hardship. Under current bankruptcy law, disability benefits paid by the VA and Department of Defense (DoD) are included in the calculation of a debtor’s monthly disposable income, increasing the portion of the debtor’s income that is subject to the reach of creditors. By contrast, bankruptcy law explicitly exempts Social Security disability benefits from this calculation. To remove this unequal treatment among various disability benefits, the HAVEN Act would exclude VA and DoD disability payments made to veterans or their dependent survivors from the monthly income calculation used for bankruptcy means tests.

This bill complements recent congressional efforts to combat servicemember and veteran mental health issues, addiction, suicide, poverty, and homelessness – all of which are exacerbated by financial hardship. The HAVEN Act is supported by Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), the American Legion, Society of Military Widows, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans for Common Sense, U.S Army Warrant Officers Association, the Retired Enlisted Association, the Association of the United States Army, the Association of the United States Navy, and the American College of Bankruptcy.

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