Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, who has been tirelessly fighting for Veterans in rural and Native American communities, today introduced legislation that will help ensure they can access the mental health care they deserve. Her Veterans Mental Health Professionals Oversight Act pushes the federal government to live up to its set standards for providing treatment and will help them improve services for our Nation's heroes.
The bill requires the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to identify for the House and Senate Veterans' Affairs Committees each year where they are employing enough mental health professionals -- and where the benchmarks Congress has previously outlined are not being met. By highlighting how many positions at VA facilities are going unfilled and which facilities are significantly understaffed, this process will help force the Department to make up for the shortfalls.
This common sense provision would be particularly beneficial in District One, highlighting the chronic need of small towns and tribal areas.
"District One is home to many dedicated mental health care workers, but the VA has to recognize that there are not enough of them to provide our fighting men and women with the services they have earned," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "We have to know how big the hole in coverage is and where the gaps are so we can do what's necessary to fix it.
"The VA has been told that these facilities need more resources than they are getting to serve Veterans with mental health issues. This bill will help make sure Washington keeps its promises."
H.R. 5731 will also take action to secure better care for the future. It creates a new committee comprised of Veterans, Veterans Service Organization representatives and VA mental health practitioners to recommend ways current programs can be enhanced, giving them a chance to make their voices heard. It also requires the VA to produce a plan for effectively helping returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
"We have a new generation of men and women in uniform coming home with unique challenges to overcome," said Rep. Kirkpatrick. "Congress and the VA must do everything they possibly can to adapt their services to the needs of our Veterans. We owe them so much for their sacrifice and service for this country."
"I had the chance to personally visit frontline troops in Afghanistan, and I was awed by their courage and willingness to put their lives on the line. Washington cannot let them down."
Other provisions of the bill call for review of the Department's progress in putting a mental health strategic plan into practice and a new mental health services handbook into use, analysis of how resources can be better distributed to address Veterans' mental health issues, and study of how best to combat substance use disorders.
The daughter and niece of soldiers and a Member of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, Rep. Kirkpatrick has repeatedly shown her dedication to Greater Arizona's fighting men and women. She has pushed key measures improving access to mental and other health services for rural Veterans into law, introduced a bill inspired by a District One Veteran's eight-year fight for assistance to make the VA's programs work for all disabled Veterans and last week brought Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to a Greater Arizona Veterans clinic to discuss the obstacles Veterans in the region face. Other accomplishments include leading the successful campaign against the White House proposal to charge Veterans' personal insurance for care of injuries suffered defending this Nation, helping finally push the VA to change its rules to reduce barriers for Veterans seeking treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and passing a bill to increase benefits for disabled Veterans, their families and their survivors.