Here in the Senate, we have an incredible responsibility to not only make sure our country is protected, but to ensure we live up to the promises made to our veterans.
These men and women have selflessly sacrificed in defense of our freedoms, and our way of life. We must ensure that our veterans are prepared to transition back to civilian life. They deserve nothing less than the benefits they were promised and a quality of care we can all be proud of.
I am grateful for our veterans who defended our nation and protected our freedoms. Upon being elected to the Senate, the first bill I introduced was aimed at assisting veterans with mental health care. It continues to be one of my top priorities.
Some of my main priorities in improving services for our veterans include increasing access and choice for mental health care services at VA and at non-VA facilities, expanding telehealth services for veterans, and continuing to ensure the VA is held full accountable for their actions. We cannot turn our backs on those who served our country or accept failures from the department designed to care for them.
On March 23, 2015, I introduced S. 841, the Prioritizing Veterans' Access to Mental Health Care Act of 2015. S. 841 provides an option for veterans to receive immediate authorization for non-VA mental health treatment if he or she felt they could not receive timely or adequate care at the VA. In November 2014 testimony before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, the VA’s chief consultant for mental health said, the average wait time for a mental health appointment at the VA is 36 days. We can – and must – do better for our veterans. If a non-VA mental health care professional can reach a veteran one day, one week, or even two weeks earlier than 36 days, Congress nor the VA should be an obstacle to affording a veteran potentially lifesaving mental health treatment. Specifically, this legislation puts veterans mental health care first and foremost, provides a back-stop to VA mental health care, and prioritizes incentives to hire more mental health care professionals at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). I reintroduced this legislation on September 28th, 2017 in the 114th Congress.
On October 8, 2015, I led nine co-sponsors in introducing the bipartisan Veterans E-Health & Telemedicine Support Act of 2015 (VETS Act, S.2170). S.2170 improves health care access for disabled or rural veterans by expanding telehealth services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs to allow qualified VA health professionals to operate across state lines and conduct telehealth services, including mental health care treatment, for veterans from the comfort and privacy of their own homes.
In May 2016, the rights of Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery, was restored when President Obama signed my legislation into law. This law reinstated the inurnment rights for WASP at Arlington National Cemetery after a policy change from the Army prevented these courageous World War II heroes from being allowed to have Arlington National Cemetery as their final resting place. I am honored to have led the fight, along with Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Congresswomen Martha McSally (R-AZ) and Susan Davis (D-CA) to ensure that these women who courageously served our nation are honored with their full military rights.
On July 1, 2016, President Obama signed my bipartisan Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act into law. Suicide among female veterans is higher than that of their male counterparts when compared to the general population, and six times more likely to occur in veterans versus non-military females. We can and must do better for our men and women alike, and this legislation does just that by requiring the VA to identify the most effective mental health and suicide prevention programs for our female veterans.
On February 8, 2016, I introduced the bipartisan Military Sexual Assault Victims Empowerment (SAVE) Act. This bipartisan legislation puts military sexual trauma survivors in control of their own health care by giving them the opportunity, flexibility, and discretion to choose treatment options that best suit their needs, even if that care is outside of a Veterans Administration facility.
Click on the links below to read about my efforts to live up to the promises made to our veterans.