Following Veterans Day last week, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA), the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate, is joining Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in introducing bipartisan legislation to support the mental health needs of servicemembers and veterans as they return to their local communities.
The Daniel J. Harvey Jr. and Adam Lambert Improving Servicemember Transition to Reduce Veteran Suicide Act – which was named to honor the memory of two Marines who died by suicide, including Iowan Cpl. Adam Lambert – would create a pilot program to add a new component to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Specifically the bill is designed to counsel servicemembers about mental health, the challenges that they might face during transition and how that might affect their mental health, and the services available to them at their local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility.
“Iowan and Marine Corps veteran Cpl. Adam Lambert was not just a hero to our nation, but he was a hero to his friends and family. Our nation has a duty to veterans across the country and to their loved ones, a duty to ensure that our heroes have the care and support they are promised. That’s why I’m proud to partner with Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown on this important measure to provide resources for our veterans who are adjusting to civilian life and may be facing serious challenges,” said Senator Ernst.
The pilot program would be established at ten different Transition Assistance Center locations, which serve at least 300 members annually.
TAP counseling would include discussion related to possible loss of community or identity crises while transitioning to civilian life, as well as the five stages of grief. Servicemembers would be provided with information regarding the mental health programs and benefits at their local VA facility. The bill would also require servicemembers to submit their medical record to VA regardless of whether they chose to utilize benefits.
The bill would also require a social worker or mental health professional from their local VA to call the servicemember within 90 days of transitioning to set up an appointment. After an assessment, the Secretaries of Defense and VA would assess whether to expand the pilot program after five years.