As a nation, we owe our veterans and service-members the utmost respect and admiration for their courage, dedication, and sacrifice. When our troops return from service, they deserve the very best compensation, care, and benefits available. I fully support efforts to strengthen health care benefits, educational assistance, and retirement plans for our veterans, and improve quality of living for military families and caregivers. Any attempts to cut federal spending or reduce our national debt should not jeopardize access to services for our veterans, military service-members, or their families.
Since 2016, over 200 veterans have died by suicide in Georgia. Each day, an average of 20 veterans dies as a result of suicide in the United States (over 6,000 veterans per year). Over 93,000 women veterans live in Georgia – the fifth largest population of women veterans in the United States. When transitioning back into civilian life, women veterans often face different challenges than their male counterparts. Unfortunately, the suicide rate of women veterans has been nearly three times the suicide rate of non-veteran women, and 18 percent higher than the suicide rate of male veterans.
To that end, I recently partnered with Congresswoman Maxine Waters to introduce the Women Veterans Support Act, which would provide $2.8 million in additional FY 2021 funding for the VA’s Center for Women Veterans and Office of Women’s Health to increase access to mental health care and other support services for women veterans, and establish a scholarship program for mental health professionals who commit to serve as a full-time employee of at a VA facility for a three-year period.
Additionally, in response to the 2014 Veterans Health Administration scandal, I partnered with Congressman Larry Buschon (R-IN-8) to introduce H.R. 4234, the Ensuring Veterans Resiliency Act, which establishes a pilot program to recruit more psychiatrists at VA medical centers. This pilot program, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Program, was included in H.R. 203, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, and signed into law by President Barack Obama in February 2015.
In addition to advocating for increased funding for VA medical and prosthetic research and veterans suicide prevention programming, I voted for specific FY 2020 funding increases for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, including $3 billion in funding to reduce the VA disability claims backlog, $581.5 million to improve medical treatment for female veterans, $396.9 million for opioid abuse treatment and prevention, $221.8 million for suicide prevention outreach, and $270 million for rural health.
To support military families, I also voted for the passage of H.R. 2500, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, which included provisions to repeal the SBP-DIC offset for surviving military spouses, provide child care for veterans receiving mental health treatment, and create a DoD study on infertility among members of the Armed Forces.
During the 116th Congress, I co-sponsored H.R. 303, the Retired Pay Restoration Act, H.R. 333, the Disabled Veterans Tax Termination, H.R. 96, the Dental Care for Veterans Act, and H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act, which was signed into law in June 2019. All four of these bills work to expand eligibility for essential health care services, disability benefits, and compensation for veterans who have been denied these services for too long.
In March 2019, I signed on to a letter to the Veterans Health Administration opposing the use of “designated access standards,” which have created barriers for veterans seeking care through the Veterans Community Care Program. If we are to fulfill our commitment to our veterans, we must work to eliminate arbitrary administrative restrictions that prevent veterans from receiving the care they deserve.
As Congress continues its legislative agenda, I will continue to prioritize the needs and concerns of veterans and their families to find ways to improve access to services and address the disparities veterans and their families experience. As Georgians, we must strengthen our commitment to improve the health, wellness, and safety of our veterans.