04.21.21

Ernst, Brown, Blumenthal, Whitehouse Push Bipartisan Bill Supporting Servicemembers’ Mental Health and Transition to Civilian Life

The legislation is named in honor of two Marines, Iowan Cpl. Adam Lambert and Rhode Islander Lance Cpl. Daniel J. Harvey Jr., who tragically died by suicide

WASHINGTON — U.S. Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are introducing bipartisan legislation to support the mental health needs of servicemembers and veterans as they return to civilian life in their local communities. U.S. Reps. Anthony Gonzalez (R-Ohio), Jim Langevin (D-R.I.), Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-Iowa), and Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.) are introducing companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Daniel J. Harvey Jr. and Adam Lambert Improving Servicemember Transition to Reduce Veteran Suicide Act—which was named to honor the memory of two Marines who died by suicide, Iowan Cpl. Adam Lambert and Rhode Islander Lance Cpl. Daniel J. Harvey Jr.—would create a pilot program to add a new component to the Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Specifically, the bill is designed to counsel servicemembers about mental health, the challenges that they might face during transition to civilian life and how that might affect their mental health, and the services available to them at their local Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facility.

“We can never forget the lives of Marine Corps veterans Cpl. Adam Lambert and Lance Cpl. Daniel J. Harvey Jr., two heroes who fought bravely to defend our country. We owe it to them, to their fellow servicemembers, and to their friends and family to work in a bipartisan way to provide resources for our veterans who are adjusting to civilian life and may be facing serious challenges. Our nation has a duty to our veterans and their loved ones to ensure that our heroes have the care and support they are promised when they return home, and this bipartisan legislation will help do exactly that,” said Senator Joni Ernst, the first female combat veteran to serve in the U.S. Senate.

“Cpl. Adam Lambert and Lance Cpl. Daniel Harvey were American heroes. We are all well aware of the difficulties many servicemembers have transitioning to civilian life and we owe it to our veterans to help them during this challenging time”, said Rep. Miller-Meeks, a retired Lt. Colonel and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “It is so important that we continue to end the stigma around mental health treatment and encourage everyone to get help when they need it. This is yet another bipartisan piece of legislation that will honor an Iowa hero and improve mental health in our veteran community.”

“We know the first year post-separation is a critical period for servicemembers and their families, and we must do a better job highlighting potential mental health stressors. By providing a direct link for veterans at their local VA facilities, it helps to ensure they can connect with providers and the resources that can best address their needs,” said Senator Brown. “Our bill gets us one step closer to bridging this gap in care by requiring VA to take proactive measures to address mental health issues faced by servicemembers, and reducing the pressure to seek care that they may not realize they need.”

“This legislation extends mental health care support to servicemembers in need,” said Senator Blumenthal. “Our men and women in uniform face immense challenges while on active duty, and need more mental health resources to help them and their families through the toughest moments which can often come during their transitions back to civilian life. I’m proud to cosponsor this bipartisan bill to enhance these vital health services for our nation’s bravest.”

“Servicemembers who return home bearing invisible wounds of war too often don’t receive the mental health services they need,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Johnston’s own Lance Corporal Daniel Harvey Jr. was a hero and our community lost him long before his time. It is a privilege to introduce bipartisan legislation named in his honor to ensure that veterans receive the best care available.”

“This piece of legislation is the first step toward properly transitioning our nation’s veterans after their service. Our current transition program does not prepare our veterans for the grief and emotional and mental stressors they will face once they leave the military. We have witnessed our failure to address the transition process in the staggering rates of veteran suicide, substance misuse, and homelessness. By providing them with this valuable knowledge and a healthy support system to navigate their transition they will be more likely to succeed in their post-military lives,” said Tom Wike, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and social work student at Ohio State University.

Background:
The pilot program would be established at ten different Transition Assistance Center locations, which serve at least 300 members annually.

TAP counseling would include discussion related to possible loss of community or identity crises while transitioning to civilian life, as well as the five stages of grief. Servicemembers would be provided with information regarding the mental health programs and benefits at their local VA facility. The bill would also require servicemembers to submit their medical records to the VA regardless of whether they chose to utilize benefits.

The bill would also require a social worker or mental health professional from their local VA to call the servicemember within 90 days of transitioning to set up an appointment. After an assessment, the Secretaries of Defense and VA would assess whether to expand the pilot program after five years.

Last year, Senator Ernst helped get the bipartisan Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act signed into law. This legislation increases access to mental health support for veterans across Iowa and the nation. The bill creates a pilot program to allow active duty servicemembers transitioning to civilian life to designate up to 10 loved ones to receive information from the VA about benefits and services available to veterans through the department and community partners.