Rep. Peters Introduces Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Create VA Support Network to Boost Veterans' Mental Health
Today, Reps. Scott Peters (CA-52), Jim Banks (IN-03), Susan Davis (CA-53), and Gil Cisneros (CA-39) introduced the Sergeant Daniel Somers Veterans Network of Support Act of 2019, a bipartisan, bicameral bill that directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a network of support that shares information from the VA with the designated family members and friends of veterans. The information would include details about what benefits and assistance the VA and other state and local government agencies can provide to veterans, potentially providing lifesaving resources. This network will provide families and veterans with a better understanding of what mental health resources exist in the VA and elsewhere, and make it easier for family members and friends to detect when their loved one is struggling. Fundamentally, this will help reduce the risk of suicide for veterans.
The bill mirrors legislation Rep. Peters introduced earlier this year for the Department of Defense (DoD). The Daniel Somers Network of Support Act directs the DoD to send updates to friends and family of servicemembers to give better understanding of the rigors, challenges, and needs associated with military service. Earlier this year, Rep. Peters secured the Daniel Somers Network of Support Act in the annual defense authorization bill. If both bills are enacted, all servicemembers and veterans would be supported under the Network of Support model.
The bill’s namesake is Army Veteran Sergeant Daniel Somers, who died by suicide in 2013 after two tours in Iraq. He suffered traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress following his service. Sgt. Somers’ parents are Coronado residents, who are now advocates for increasing access to VA services and information and improving the transition from the Department of Defense to the VA.
A companion bill was introduced in the Senate by Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), with support from Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“Veterans’ families and friends provide invaluable support when servicemembers transition out of the military. When they have more access to information about how to navigate the VA and other resources, they will be able to better support their loved one. This bill aims to strengthen the bonds between veterans and their families and potentially prevent isolation and suicide after they leave the armed forces,” said Rep. Peters.
“Troops leaving military service face confusing and complicated red tape when navigating their veterans benefits. Educating and empowering our veterans’ loved ones about the resources available will ensure veterans never feel alone and get the support and benefits they’ve earned, ” said Senator Sinema.
“During the period between Daniel’s military service and his death by suicide in 2013, neither he nor we had knowledge of the many resources and programs available through the VA. Since 2013 we have been working closely with Senator Kyrsten Sinema, Rep. Scott Peters, and many others, to remedy this issue and alleviate the confusion connected with the VA’s eligibility, access to care, and benefits. We feel strongly that this bill addresses these issues by proactively educating our veterans and those who love them, thus improving their overall knowledge and understanding of the VA. Our goal is to ensure that every eligible veteran takes advantage of the VA’s services and expertise to the fullest extent possible,” said Howard and Jean Somers.
“Creating a strong and robust network of support for our veterans is absolutely critical to addressing the stagnant and unacceptable rate of suicide amongst our nation’s heroes. I was proud to champion similar legislation for our active-duty servicemembers, which was included in the House version of the FY20 NDAA, and I am confident that this bipartisan legislation will have similar success in the coming months,” said Rep. Banks.
“My office hears regularly from veterans who are not always aware of all the benefits and services available to them,” said Rep. Davis. “When a veteran is struggling, the importance of support becomes paramount. This bill, thanks to the commitment and tireless work of the Somers family on behalf of their son Daniel, will allow veterans to build a support group to ensure they are getting the treatment and assistance they need.”
“As a Navy veteran, I know firsthand the challenges that servicemembers and their families face when they leave military service and begin to reintegrate into civilian life,” said Rep. Cisneros. “I’m proud to join Congressman Peters in this bicameral and bipartisan effort to honor the Somers family and their son, Army veteran Sergeant Daniel Somers, to improve information sharing so that veterans and their families are aware of the benefits and networks of support available to them. This is exactly why I launched the Congressional Military Transition Assistance Pathway (MTAP) Caucus, and I’m glad to have both Congressmen Peters’ and Banks’ help in advocating on behalf of our servicemembers.”