America’s veterans answered the call to serve their fellow citizens, but too many return home experiencing mental and emotional trauma. Often they need assistance transitioning home and reintegrating into their communities, but they may not know where to go for help.
The mental health challenges that veterans face are unique and incredibly personal, and at an alarming rate, they can lead to tragedy.
Veterans are at a higher risk of suicide than those who have not served. They also face other risks including homelessness and substance misuse. As a country, we must do better.
Veterans sacrifice greatly to protect our freedom and security, so it should go without saying that as a country we have an obligation to ensure that veterans have the support and resources that they need and have earned. That’s why we are collaborating on a bipartisan basis to improve mental health services and supports for those who have served to protect us.
One effort we are focused on is building on the American Legion’s “Buddy Check National Week of Calling” to connect veterans to one another and to ensure that they receive the care that they need.
The Buddy Check program recognizes that the best source of help for a veteran can be a friend and fellow veteran who has faced a similar experience, who understands their struggles and who can provide peer support.
This peer support helps let veterans know that they are not the only one facing these challenges and that it is OK to ask for help.
Our bill directs the secretary of Veterans Affairs to designate one week each year as “Buddy Check Week.” The VA would work directly with non-profits that serve veterans, mental health experts and members of the armed forces to provide educational opportunities for veterans to learn how to conduct wellness checks and recognize signs of suicide risk among fellow veterans.
This bill builds on the American Legion’s efforts, and it is a real opportunity to help veterans be there for each other and remind all Americans that they should speak up if they need support for mental health challenges.
To further ensure that veterans get the support that they need, we also reintroduced our National Green Alert Act.
For a variety of reasons, far too many veterans who are struggling with mental health and may be at risk of suicide go missing for long stretches of time before they are located. Our bill would help correct this by providing federal assistance to help states implement “Green Alert” systems.
With a state system in place, when a veteran goes missing, law enforcement and the public would be notified to help locate them and help them receive appropriate care. This system would be similar to the Silver Alert system for older Americans and Amber Alert system for children, and is a commonsense step to help veterans in need.
Passing both of these bills and getting them signed into law will be major steps forward in providing the vital resources that can help improve and save lives. And we hope it will also serve to demonstrate to veterans that their fellow Americans truly want to be there for them just as they have been there for us.
There is simply no room for partisanship when it comes to providing support for our nation’s heroes. When our men and women in uniform stand up to serve our country, it doesn’t matter if they are a Republican, Democrat or Independent, they serve because they are united in the common purpose of protecting our country and our freedoms.
We are focused on taking that bipartisan approach to supporting veterans in Congress. And we will continue working together, and with our colleagues from both parties, to get veterans the care that they need and deserve.
Sen. Maggie Hassan is a Democrat representing New Hampshire in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Joni Ernst is a Republican who represents Iowa.