New Data Shows Success of VA Program that Hassan, Bipartisan Senators Are Working to Make Permanent
Senators Hassan, Cramer, and Cassidy Introduced Bipartisan Legislation to Make Permanent the VA's Solid Start Program, Which Helps Connect New Veterans with Benefits and Services
WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Bill Cassidy, MD (R-LA) are working to make permanent a new program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that helps connect new veterans with critical VA services, including mental health support. As first reported in the Military Times, newly released data shows that in the first nine months of the Solid Start program, the VA successfully contacted almost 70,000 newly separated veterans, including over 12,000 veterans who had sought mental health support in their last year of service.
The Senators’ bipartisan bill would codify the Solid Start program, which launched in December 2019 with the goal of reaching out to all newly separated veterans three times within their first year of separation, and would authorize sufficient funding for the program going forward.
To read the coverage in the Military Times on the Solid Start program, see excerpts below or click here.
By Leo Shane III
A new Veterans Affairs program requiring phone calls to all recently separated service members to discuss potential benefits and support services could be made into a permanent mandate for the department under plans being supported by lawmakers in the House and Senate.
The Veterans Affairs' Solid Start program, launched last December, has drawn praise from lawmakers as critical outreach to the new veterans, among the most vulnerable groups for increased stress, mental health issues and suicidal thoughts.
Department officials said through September, the first nine months of the program, VA officials contacted nearly 70,000 individuals through the phone calls, the majority of them on the first attempt. The goal of the calls is to “help you better understand the benefits available to you and help you get a solid start on your civilian life.”
Of the individuals contacted, more than 12,000 were individuals who had a mental health appointment with military specialists in their last year of service, a group seen as particularly vulnerable for transition-related stress problems.
At least nine veterans have been connected to the VA’s suicide hotline during the Solid Star calls to deal with emergency mental health situations, department officials said.
The successes thus far have led lawmakers to try and codify the program, ensuring that future administrations or budget changes at VA won’t shutter the effort.
Last month, a bipartisan group of senators offered new legislation to make the program permanent, including requiring more public advertising of the program, mailed follow-ups to veterans if phone calls are unsuccessful, and analysis of information collected through the program to help with future transition issues.
Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. — who introduced the measure with Republican Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana — praised the “significant strides” made in the program already and said officials now need to build on that work.
“Veterans who bravely sacrificed for our country often face significant struggles as they return to civilian life, and we have an obligation to do everything that we can to support them in this transition,” she said in a statement. […]
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