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Weekly Column: Honoring Veterans Beyond Veterans Day

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Thank you, veterans, for your service to our nation and support of your fellow veterans and military families.  We honor veterans beyond Veterans Day by fully supporting their service beyond their deployments.  Congress has been advancing legislation to improve veterans services.

Transition to Civilian Life: I have been proud to lead a coalition focused on implementing improvements to support veterans transitioning from military service to civilian life.  This led to the reintroduction of the bipartisan S. 1555, the IMPROVE Transition for Servicemembers Act, that will enhance assistance to servicemembers returning to civilian life and their families.  I also co-led the introduction of S. 666, the HUBS for Veterans Act of 2019, which would provide federal grants to community-based organizations that assist servicemembers transitioning to civilian life.    

Expanding Mental Health Care: I co-led the introduction of S. 1594, the SERVICE Act, to address the alarmingly high veteran suicide rates.  This legislation would allow veterans open access to mental health care at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), regardless of how long after service they seek treatment.  This bill builds on continued attention by Congress and other federal actions to combat veteran suicide, including a bill passed last year to explore the feasibility of establishing a 3-digit national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system to make it easier for veterans to receive prompt, personalized help during a crisis.

National Guard Focus: I joined a bipartisan group of Senate colleagues in asking the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to look for and explain any gaps in addressing the alarmingly high rates of suicide in the National Guard.  We pointed to 2018 DOD data showing the suicide rate for members of the Guard was 30.6 suicides per 100,000 population, compared to 24.8 suicides per 100,000 population in the Active component, and 22.9 suicides per 100,000 population in the Reserves.  We stressed, “We cannot continue to treat the National Guard as just another branch of the Active Army and Air Force while not paying special attention to their unique needs.”

Supporting Gold Star Families: Earlier this year, the Senate unanimously passed S. 1370, the Gold Star Family Tax Relief Act, which I co-sponsored.  This bill would ensure Gold Star families do not face unintended and unfair tax penalties on their survivor benefits.  I hope this momentum will carry over to S. 622, the Military Widow’s Tax Elimination Act, which I am helping lead in the Senate, to repeal the offset of military survivor benefits.  I look forward to adding these bills to the growing list of veterans services reforms making their way to the President’s desk. 

Improving Community Care: The VA MISSION Act, which President Trump signed into law last year and is being implemented this year, streamlines VA community care programs into one, new program and includes provisions I championed requiring the VA to educate veterans about their various health care options and how they interact.  I am monitoring the implementation of this important program to ensure it works well for Idaho veterans. 

These are some of the efforts underway to help ensure federal policies respect veterans’ service.  Thank you to the veterans who enrich our communities with a deep sense of commitment to our fellow Americans.  Time and time again, I meet veterans who not only gave tremendously in service to our nation, but also continue to give their time, talents and treasure to supporting others, including their fellow veterans.  Thank you for your help with making progress in enacting needed reforms for the betterment of military families.  Please continue to let me know how I can help you.      

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