In advance of Memorial Day, House lawmakers passed a series of nine veterans-themed bills, including several focused on suicide prevention.
All of the measures must still be approved by the Senate before becoming law. But House lawmakers said the moves are an important effort to highlight the issue of veterans mental health to the public, and to push the Department of Veterans Affairs into quicker action.
“The sad statistic shows after the 20 veterans and military service members who die by suicide, 14 of those 20 have not received VA health care,” said Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif. and chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, before the votes on Tuesday. “This is one step toward changing this tragic number.”
All nine of the measures passed without objection. Several require more information from VA on mental health and suicide prevention efforts, including a measure from Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., which would require quicker notification to Congress of suicide attempts on department campuses.
The chamber also advanced a measure from committee ranking member Phil Roe, R-Tenn., to expand eligibility for readjustment counseling that previously excluded members of the Coast Guard, National Guard and reserves.
Lawmakers also passed a measure to create a fourth administration within VA focused specifically on education and employment programs. Those efforts are currently housed within the Veterans Benefits Administration, and advocates have argued they don’t receive enough attention as a result.
The slate of veterans bills also included the annual cost-of-living adjustment for veterans benefits for next year.
The measure is a relatively non-controversial issue each year, tying the annual boost for a host of veterans benefits to the scheduled annual hike in Social Security benefits. Due to existing rules, lawmakers must pass the legislation each year, despite past efforts to make the cost-of-living increases automatic.
Senate leaders have not said when they may consider voting on the legislation. Both chambers are scheduled to break for a Memorial Day recess later this week.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.