Ernst Continues Fight to Improve Mental Health Care for Veterans

Re-introduces first piece of legislation during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst, a combat veteran, re-introduced the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act. This legislation provides veterans greater and timelier access to mental health care treatment and incentivizes the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to hire more mental health care professionals to fully meet the demand.

“We tragically lose 20 veterans a day to suicide, according to the VA. Selfless men and women who sacrificed years ago, often in dangerous and hostile environments, should not become victims of suicide when they return home. We can and must do better,” said Ernst. “At some centers in Iowa, thousands of veterans still experience wait times for mental health care appointments greater than 30 days. That is entirely unacceptable. 

“The Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act provides an option for our veterans to receive mental health treatment with VA Choice Act providers, until they can receive the comprehensive mental health care treatment at the VA they deserve. September marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, another reminder that we can – and we must – do better for our veterans who demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice everything for our freedom.”

Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) have also joined as original co-sponsors of the bill.

Senator Ernst originally introduced the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act in March 2015 and it was her first piece of legislation introduced in the United States Senate.

About the Prioritizing Veterans’ Access to Mental Health Care Act:

  • Amends the Veterans’ Access, Choice, and Accountability Act of 2014 to allow a veteran instant authorization of non-VA care if the veteran provides an electronic or hard-copy statement in writing that they are not receiving adequate or timely mental health care at the VA. 
  • Eliminates the 40-mile and VA wait-time triggers for mental health care only under the Choice Act. 
  • Prioritizes incentives for the hiring of mental health care professionals at VA. 
  • Uses Choice Act funds to pay for the bill. 
  • Provides the VA 90 days to enact the program.

Additionally, September is Suicide Awareness Prevention Month. Learn more about Senator Ernst’s efforts to improve access to mental health care here.