January 26, 2018

Bipartisan Legislation Cosponsored by Senator Hassan to Bolster Veteran Peer Specialist Services Passes U.S. Senate

WASHINGTON – The Senate yesterday passed bipartisan legislation, cosponsored by U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), to expand veterans’ access to peer counseling specialists to better combat the risks of suicide and treat associated mental health conditions. The Veteran Partners’ Efforts to Enhance Reintegration Act (Veteran PEER Act) was first introduced by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Roy Blunt (R-MO).

“Veterans are 22 percent more likely to commit suicide than civilians, and we must do more to ensure that the men and women who have served in defense of our freedoms have the care they need and have earned,” Senator Hassan said. “The Veteran PEER Act takes critically important steps to fulfill that promise, expanding access to peer counseling specialists who can help connect veterans with the treatment they need and save lives. Members of both parties agree on the need to improve the VA health care system, and I call on my colleagues in the House to support this bipartisan legislation.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) currently employs peer specialists to assist veterans in treatment for mental health and substance abuse disorders. Peer specialists support fellow veterans and encourage recovery by helping veterans access health services and navigate the VA healthcare system; and teaching coping and positive health-affirming behavior. The VA was instructed by a 2012 Executive Order to hire and train 800 peer counselors by December 31, 2013, to treat the estimated 1.5 million veterans requiring mental health services.

The Veteran Partners’ Efforts to Enhance Reintegration Act (Veteran PEER Act) would expand veterans’ access to peer specialist services by specifically targeting shortcomings in the current program, including peer specialists’ restricted participation in primary care services; persistent stigma attached to seeking treatment for mental health disorders; and under-promoted proven successes of the peer specialist program in veteran reintegration.

The Veteran PEER Act would:

 

  • Authorize the VA to establish peer specialists in Patient Aligned Care Teams within VA medical centers to promote the use and integration of mental health and substance use treatment services in the primary care setting.
  • Implement the program in 50 locations across the nation over two years, with required consideration of rural and underserved areas when selecting program locations.
  • Require regular reports to Congress with information on the benefits to veterans and their families derived from use of peer specialists.

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