Washington, D.C. - Today, U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) announced the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act, legislation that would expand access to mental health services for veterans and their families. The bicameral bill would allow 10 additional states, including New Jersey and Minnesota, to be eligible for at least one additional Vet Center which would provide mental health counseling to veterans, survivors of military sexual assault, and Gold Star families. Companion legislation was earlier introduced in the House by Representatives Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01), Anthony Gonzalez (OH-16), Dean Phillips (MN-03), and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (Northern Mariana Islands-At-Large). This legislation has been endorsed by The American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the Service Women’s Action Network, and New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholder Group.
“Vet Centers play a critical role in ensuring that our veterans and their families receive access to affordable and potentially lifesaving care, including vital mental health resources and gender specific services,” said Sen. Booker.“Unfortunately, as data shows, such centers are not always available in communities with high veteran populations. This bicameral legislation will help expand Vet Center services in several states, allowing more of our nation’s veterans to receive the VA care they have earned and deserve.”
“Our veterans have sacrificed for our country, and we need to repay this service by providing access to care that meets their unique needs, whether that be mental health needs or readjustment counseling,” said Sen. Klobuchar. “The VA estimates that about 11 to 20 out of every 100 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been diagnosed with potential symptoms of PTSD, making it all the more crucial that we ensure every veteran has access to Vet Center services, regardless of where they live. I am proud to partner with Senator Booker on this legislation to prioritize the mental health of our veterans.”
“Vet Centers play a critical role in assisting veterans as they transition into civilian life and aiding those who are experiencing readjustment issues. Unfortunately, not all veterans have access to Vet Centers because of their geographic location, said Paul E. Dillard, National Commander of The American Legion. “To address this issue, The American Legion supports efforts to establish new Vet Centers that consider factors not measurable, but rather reflective of the unique characteristics of each state, its resources, and limitations to reach as many veterans as possible. Therefore, The American Legion is pleased to endorse the Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act. Expanding the number of Vet Centers in certain high-population states that have high veteran to Vet Center ratios will help to reduce gaps in VA healthcare coverage and provide veterans the support they desperately need.”
“Vet Centers are vital community-based lifelines to mental health care and readjustment services for veterans, service members, and families,” saidBrittany Dymond, Associate Director with the VFW’s National Legislative Service. “However, some communities lack access to a Vet Center while others experience demand that exceeds their Vet Center’s capacity. The VFW supports the Veterans Census-Enabled National Treatment Equitable Resource Supplement for Mental Health Act of 2021 (Vet CENTERS for Mental Health Act of 2021), which would require VA to increase the number of Vet Centers. We applaud Senators Booker and Klobuchar for their attention to this issue in order to provide additional touch points to VA services.”
“VET Centers are a critical lynchpin in VA’s ability to support Military Sexual Trauma (MST) survivors and other veterans in need of services to support their mental health,” said Lory Manning, Director Of Government Relations for the Service Women’s Action Network. We need more VET Centers in more locations so more veterans can be helped by the healing programs and peer support they provide.”
“Catholic Charities Veteran Services is proud to support this legislative effort to establish another Vet Center in New Jersey,” said David Pearson, Assistant Director of Veteran Services for Catholic Family & Community Services in the Diocese of Paterson and Co-Chair of the New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholder Group. Access to local mental health services for our veterans is critically important, and is a benefit that they deserve. We thank Senator Booker and Senator Klobuchar for leading this initiative in the Senate to help fulfil our country’s obligation to our veterans and service members.”
“The New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholders Group is grateful for the support of Senator Booker and Senator Klobuchar for their advocacy on this very important issue,” said AJ Luna, Co-Chair of the New Jersey SOS Veteran Stakeholder Group. “Our veterans and their families have served and sacrificed for us all. We must continue to advocate for them so that they can have access to the resources and services that best support them during their transition to civilian life.”
“As a veteran who recognizes the life-saving value of Vet Centers from firsthand experience, it is heart-warming to see legislation that would expand the number of Vet Centers across the United States,” said Emerson Crooks,Co-Chair of the Veterans Advisory Council of the New Jersey VA Health Care System and Vice President of the Mental Health Association of North Jersey. “Vet Centers provide much needed mental health services for veterans and their families, especially for those who served in combat and require readjustment services upon their return home. I am thankful to Senator Booker and Senator Klobuchar for leading this initiative in the Senate, and for their continued advocacy to make this critical service available to more veterans. We must continue to advocate for our veterans and ensure that they have the support necessary during their transition into civilian life.”
“As a recently retired Director of a Vet Center in New Jersey, I have seen firsthand the critically necessary support that Vet Centers provide to our servicemembers and their families,” said David Cathcart, Retired Director of the Secaucus VA Vet Center. “Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring our veterans can receive mental health services in a timely, local manner has never been more important in the fight to reduce veteran suicide. Adding additional Vet Centers across the United States, especially in New Jersey, will effectively reduce wait-times, decrease travel-times, and ensure providers are not overwhelmed with large caseloads. It is the least we can do for the men and women who have given so much to our nation.”
Historically, different methods have been used to identify where the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) places Vet Centers, leading to unintended underinvestment in certain states and territories that have higher ratios of veterans to Vet Centers than the national average. This legislation modifies the criteria that the VA uses by leveraging results of the 2020 Census and the VA’s own population data to ensure underserved areas are eligible for additional Vet Centers.
Throughout his time in the Senate, Booker has been a tireless advocate for the nearly 400,000 veterans that call New Jersey home. He has introduced theDOULA Act to support pregnant veterans and improve maternal health outcomes. Booker has also introduced the GI Bill NEED Act and the VR&E NEED Act which would protect veterans’ educational and vocational rehabilitation benefits under the GI bill during the COVID-19 pandemic.