WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH) participated in a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing today, where she discussed the importance of passing her bipartisan bills to support veterans’ mental health and improve their overall wellbeing.
To watch Senator Hassan’s questioning, click here.
Senator Hassan began her questioning by highlighting the urgent need to address mental health challenges among the veteran population.
“Every year, 200,000 service members transition from military to civilian life. The majority are in the 18 to 34 year old age range, which also has the highest veteran suicide rate,” Senator Hassan said.
Senator Hassan went on to discuss the bipartisan legislation that she introduced with Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) to strengthen and make permanent the Solid Start program at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), which aims to contact every veteran multiple times by phone in the first year after they leave active duty to check in and help connect them to VA programs and benefits.
Dr. Mark Upton, Acting Assistant Under Secretary of Health for Community Care, said that “We in VA completely agree that that transition from active duty service into our system is a very important transition period and one that should be taken with as much support as possible.”
Buddy Check Week
Senator Hassan also highlighted the role that peer-to-peer support can play in improving veterans’ overall wellbeing.
“Veterans need outreach in a lot of different ways, and the American Legion’s Buddy Checks volunteer initiative is important because it connects veterans directly with other veterans,” Senator Hassan said. “I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Ernst to build on The American Legion’s efforts by directing the VA to designate one week per year as ‘Buddy Check Week’ to organize outreach events and educate veterans on how to conduct peer wellness checks.”
When asked how this program could support the VA’s efforts to address veterans’ mental health challenges, Dr. Clifford Smith, Deputy Director at the Office of Mental Health Operations, agreed that Buddy Check Week is a good opportunity to support veterans. Senator Hassan also shared that she has heard from women veterans in rural parts of New Hampshire about the importance of connecting with one another.
Senator Hassan went on to highlight one innovative solution that she is working on to address veteran suicide and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The PAWS Act, which Senator Hassan cosponsored, would establish a three-year program at the VA where the Department would provide grants to eligible service dog organizations to pair more veterans with a service dog.