Hayes Introduces Legislation to Strengthen Veterans' Health Care

Today, Congresswoman Jahana Hayes introduced two pieces of legislation to strengthen mental health care for veterans. The bills – the bipartisan VA Mental Health Staffing Act and the VA Mental Health Counseling Act – would ensure Connecticut veterans can access the mental health care and resources they need.

Both pieces of legislation are endorsed by: American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, American Association of Suicidology, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Mental Health Counselors Association, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, DAV, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Minority Veterans of America, Military Officers Association of America, Modern Military Association of America, Nurses Organization of Veterans Affairs, and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VA Mental Health Staffing Act has been endorsed by: American Psychiatric Association and Association of VA Psychologist Leaders.

“Ensuring veterans have access to quality mental health care is a top priority for me. That is why I have introduced these important pieces of legislation,” said Rep. Hayes. “Our country owes veterans a debt we can never truly repay, but we can work together to support their mental health and well-being, especially during a global pandemic. I urge my colleagues to join me in this effort to deliver relief and peace of mind to veterans during these uncertain times.”

“No veteran should have to look to the community for care solely because of VA’s mental health staffing shortages—especially since research has shown that VA mental health care is often far superior to what’s provided in the community. That’s why I strongly support these two new bills from Rep. Hayes. By requiring VA to review their current mental health staffing plan, create individual staffing plans for new mental health provider positions, and submit a proposal to address any gaps, these bills will help more veterans access this lifesaving care, and ultimately, reduce veteran suicide. We must ensure our veterans in crisis won’t be negatively impacted by VA’s nearly 50,000 vacancies,” said House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Mark Takano.

The VA Mental Health Staffing Act, cosponsored by Greg Steube (R-FL) and 14 other members, would direct the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to review its mental health staffing plan and report back to Congress about the necessary number mental health care provider positions, how many are unfilled, and how the Department plans to address those gaps, including any geographically-specific recruitment and retention incentives. VA would also be required to share with Congress any legislative authority necessary to meet appropriate mental health staffing goals.

The VA Mental Health Counseling Act, cosponsored by 12 members, directs the VA to develop individual occupational series and separate staffing plans for two categories of mental health provides relatively new in the Department: licensed professional mental health counselors (LPMHCs) and marriage and family therapists (MFTs). Data where staffing shortages exist for LPMHCs and MFTs, and how VA plans to address these gaps, would be disaggregated by Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) and facility, to understand specific geographic needs.

Congresswoman Hayes has fought tirelessly in support of veterans and their families to ensure they have the resources and services they need. She has sponsored and cosponsored over 40 bills to do just that, including:

  • H.R. 3221, the Dependency and Indemnity Compensation Improvement Act, which would create an allowance for a deceased veteran's or deceased service member's surviving spouse who is receiving dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) from the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • H.R. 3224, the Deborah Sampson Act, which would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to ensure that gender-specific services are continuously available at every VA medical center and community-based outpatient clinic. Additionally, the VA must conduct a study, interviewing women veterans and employees, to assess the need for and use of extended hours as a means of reducing barriers to care;
  • H.R. 663, the Burn Pits Accountability Act, which would require the Department of Defense (DOD) and the military departments to evaluate whether each member of the Armed Forces has been (1) based or stationed where an open air burn pit was used to dispose of waste, or (2) exposed to toxic airborne chemicals. Members located where an open burn pit was used or exposed to toxic airborne chemicals must be enrolled in the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, unless the member elects not to enroll; and
  • H.R. 299, the Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2019, which helps to ensure that veterans exposed to Agent Orange are able to receive the health care benefits and disability compensation they are entitled to.

Rep. Jahana Hayes has been a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.

Currently serving her first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District.