IVMF’s Letter of Support for Senate Bill 785 and House Bill 8247

Senate Bill 785 The Commander John Scott Hannon Veterans Mental Health Improvement Act of 2019 and House Bill 8247 Veterans COMPACT Act are two major pieces of suicide prevention legislation likely to be signed into law this year. Below is IVMF’s letter of support for the two pieces of legislation.

September 17, 2020
The Honorable Mark Takano, Chairman
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
8234 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Jerry Moran, Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
418 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

The Honorable Phil Roe, Ranking Member
U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
3460 O’Neill House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Jon Tester, Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
825A Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Moran, Chairman Takano, Ranking Member Tester and Ranking Member Roe: As Vice Chancellor of Syracuse University and Executive Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), I write to thank you for your leadership, unwavering support and tireless work on behalf of our nation’s service members, veterans and military families. I would also like to acknowledge and express my deep appreciation to the staff members of your respective committees. For several years the IVMF has worked closely with your staff and they have proven to be an invaluable resource as we collectively work to uphold the solemn promise first made by President Lincoln, “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.”

I write to you today to express the IVMF’s full support of Senate Bill 785, The “Commander Scott Hannon Mental Health
Improvement Act of2019,” as well as the complementary provisions the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee has included as part of the Veterans’ COMP ACT Act. This legislation comes at a critical time for our nation’s warfighters as they continue to overcome the mental and physical challenges brought on by armed conflict. These bills will dramatically improve the way we serve veterans and represent an innovative step towards ending one of our community’s most pressing issues: veteran suicide. The IVMF stands in solidarity with you and offers our full assistance as you seek swift passage of this legislation.

Since 2011 the IVMF has impacted more than 140,000 transitioning service members, veterans and their families through our programs and services. More specifically, for the last six years we’ve worked alongside communities to build better, more coordinated systems of care to meet the diverse and often co-occurring challenges that veterans and their families encounter. In 17 communities across the country, we have supported hubs and organizations from all sectors in their efforts to assist over 36,000 clients with a wide array of needs. It is our belief that communities must be a critical component of our nation’s approach to addressing any issue this population encounters. We are excited to see included in this legislation a new grant program that aims to facilitate a community-led, coordinated approach to providing veterans with the support they need to be healthy and thrive after service.

The IVMF believes coordination between the federal government, states, and communities represents the future of veteran service delivery. Accordingly, we are encouraged to see a comprehensive piece of legislation focused on driving more coordination at the ground level. We know that ending veteran suicide takes more than quality access to mental healthcare. With this bill, communities will have the resources they need to coordinate services that address the many other stressors contributing to potential suicidal ideation. Quality housing, employment, social inclusion, access to food, and family support are all necessary to the overall well-being of a veteran. We believe that, through your leadership, the Federal government recognizes this and is reinventing the way we address veteran suicide.

Situated on a university campus, we also believe that higher education has a role to play in this fight. The portion of this bill that allows the VA to work with universities to conduct research on veteran suicide will enlist the help of the academic community to better understand the challenge ahead of us, and yield insights we can use to improve our approaches and solutions.

We believe many of the additions proposed by House representatives are critical steps forward, as well. Extensive IVMF research points to the fact that women veterans and veterans of color face distinct challenges during their military-to-civilian transition. We support the needs of these subpopulations coming to the forefront of this discussion.

Further, we are encouraged by the work of your committee members to expand complementary and integrative services consistent with a Whole Health approach. While the IVMF does not provide clinical care, we cite Whole Health approaches as a key policy priority. We believe Whole Health represents an innovation in VA’s healthcare model that puts the veteran at the center.

As we look to the future, we must be collaborative and visionary in our approaches to end veteran suicide. Preventing suicide starts not only with supporting and reaching those most at risk, but also creating conditions that enable veterans and their families to meet their post-service aspirations in their health, careers, and social lives. Better engaging our communities, and better coordinating our collective efforts must continue across all facets of veteran service delivery.

S. 785 and the Veterans’ COMP ACT Act represent a step towards this bold and essential goal. Therefore, we strongly support swift passage of this legislation that empowers communities and hope that the spirit of this legislation endures well after it is signed into law.

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