Ryan Britch | June 30, 2020
#AdvocacyUpdate: NDAA Debate, Veteran Suicide Plan & discussions on Racial Disparity
DC is still social distancing, but working from home hasn’t slowed down Congressional hearings. On June 16, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on racial disparity in military justice. The hearing addressed a GAO report from last year that identified racial disparities among servicemembers who were investigated and convicted in general and special courts-martial. While issues are clear, senior judge advocates of four service branches testified to their dedication to create a more fair system of military justice. You can watch the whole hearing here.
This past Tuesday, The House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on VA’s telehealth activities during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Committee heard from VA officials and some VSO and Tribal leaders on how VA is using technology to address veterans’ health during these unprecedented times. VA has significantly expanded virtual services and has provided nine million more additional virtual care interactions than last year. Telehealth is a great tool and can enhance a veterans ability to receive the care they need by reducing time needed away from work, the need for childcare, and reducing travel in rural areas. IAVA will continue to advocate for increased VA telehealth services even after the pandemic is over.
On June 17, President Trump released the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End a National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS). You can watch the briefing here and you can read the entire report here. This intitiative aimed at developing veterans suicide prevention initives is lead by Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of Give an Hour. Originally due to release its final report in March 2020, the task force missed its deadline by over three months. With the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbating mental health concerns, IAVA CEO Jeremy Butler pressed PREVENTS to publish their report.
The PREVENTS Roadmap covers multiple aspects of suicide prevention including research, communication, policies, and programs. The task force provides a strategic framework and ten recommendations to address veteran suicide. The roadmap also contains a strategy on how to best evaluate the implementation of its recommendations.
Mental health and suicide prevention continue to be the top issue impacting the post-9/11 generation of veterans. In IAVA’s most recent annual survey, 62 percent of our members report personally knowing a veteran who has died by suicide, a shocking increase of 22 percent since 2014. IAVA was an active participant in the effort to establish the President’s Executive Order and is excited at the prospect of multiple agencies collaborating to tackle veteran suicide.
Last week the Senate began debating the National Defense Authorization Act which includes a
three percent pay increase for active duty servicemembers, additional troop numbers, better housing protections, and increased focus on family readiness. Although none of this is set in stone. These provisions will have to survive debate in the House Armed Services Committee on July 1 and then lawmakers will negotiate again in the Senate before a vote later this year. Read a full summary here.
Government Affairs Associate Ryan Britch participated in the Homeless veterans working group call this week. Discussion surrounded VA’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and potential legislation that could help VA address the need of homeless veterans more effectively. Senators Dan Sullivan (R-AK) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) along with 20 other Cosponsors introduced the Homeless Veterans Coronavirus Response Act (S.3898). This legislation would remove certain barriers and provide VA greater flexibility in order to reduce veteran homelessness.
The US Census Bureau recently released a report on our nation’s veterans: Those Who Served: America’s Veterans From World War II to the War on Terror. The report had some really interesting comparisons of service connected disabilities among different service eras and other data on the veteran population. Read our blog about its findings here.
New Cosponsor for IAVA-Backed Legislation
A new cosponsor has been added to the Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Healthcare Improvement Act (S.785). Thank you to Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) for supporting improvements in veteran mental healthcare and efforts to combat suicide in the veteran community.
IAVA Has Your Back
We know suicide prevention and mental health is a top concern for IAVA members. Forty-four percent report having suicidal ideation since joining the military, a 13 percent rise since 2014. That is why we have built recommendations for policymakers to address veteran’s mental health into our latest Policy Agenda: A Lasting Legacy, our roadmap for America. Check it out here.
We know that this time can be stressful and IAVA’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF) is here to help! This program provides confidential 24/7 peer-to-peer support, comprehensive care management, resource connections, and can help with accessing your VA Benefits. To get connected to a Veteran Care Manager for immediate help anytime, day or night, please call 1-855-91RAPID or fill out our online form here. If you are a veteran or a veteran family member facing challenges or have questions, QRF can help by providing 24/7 peer support and providing connections to quality resources so you can get back on your feet and meet your goals.If you are currently experiencing a crisis please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1.800.273.8255, and press 1. Alternatively, use the Crisis Text Line by texting “RISING” to 741741